Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020 and the federal government began using extraordinary measures to support workers, households and businesses, Republicans have been concerned that expanding the eligibility and generosity of unemployment benefits could slow the recovery and keep workers on the sidelines.

So why have a handful of Republican-led states now extended unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs because of failing to comply with vaccine mandates, with other states considering following suit?

The answer is that some Republican politicians place fighting the culture war ahead of sound economic policy, traditional conservative principles and the best interests of their own constituents. The result will be to keep more workers on the sidelines in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee at a time when labor shortages are hurting the ability of many businesses to function and are contributing to record-setting inflation — all while lengthening the duration of the pandemic.

State officials cited precisely these concerns when they stopped participating in a federal program that made unemployment benefits more generous.

It seems they may have been right — states that reduced the generosity of unemployment benefits last summer saw relatively more unemployed workers find jobs. But these states were expanding unemployment compensation with one hand while restricting it with the other, creating a new category of eligibility restricted to the unvaccinated while cutting the size of the payments and telling gig workers that they are no longer allowed to receive benefits.

Jobless benefits are a social insurance program. Employers pay into the system on behalf of workers, who ultimately bear the cost of those premiums in the form of lower wages. Workers who have lost a job through no fault of their own — for example, a mass layoff due to an economic downturn — and who are actively looking for work are eligible to collect benefits. Workers who are fired for cause or who voluntarily quit can’t receive benefits, just as someone who intentionally burns down his house can’t collect on his homeowner’s insurance policy.

Workers who don’t comply with their employer’s vaccine policy are being fired for cause. Should workers fired for not complying with corporate dress codes be granted eligibility for unemployment compensation? No. Nor should workers who choose not to follow corporate vaccine policy.

The economic nationalism and conservative populism that are coursing through the political right indulge a narrative of grievance and victimization. But these laid-off workers are not victims. They are adults making choices about their work environment, and they should bear the responsibility for those choices, including loss of income while searching for another job.

Conservatism prizes economic liberty and argues that employers should be given broad latitude to set corporate policy, and that the terms of employment relationships should be respected. These relationships are entered into by workers and firms voluntarily, and presumably would not exist if the arrangement didn’t make both parties better off.

This has been a traditional argument against high federal minimum wages. If I am willing to be compensated at $12 per hour and a business is willing to pay me that wage, then why should the government step in and judge that $12 is too little?

The same logic applies to vaccine mandates. It should be fine for employers to require their employees to be vaccinated, and fine for people to choose whether to work for employers with vaccine mandates. There is no good reason that workers who would rather not be vaccinated should receive compensation for choosing to act upon that preference. Conservatives should remember that that compensation comes from tax revenue — i.e., it is other people’s money.

Further complicating this situation are consumer prices, which are rising at a pace faster than they have in four decades. These Republican-led states are keeping more workers on the sidelines, which is making it harder for businesses to find workers, pushing up nominal wages and putting upward pressure on consumer prices. Fighting vaccines mandates should take a back seat to getting workers into jobs and keeping price increases in check.

The many reasons to oppose extending unemployment benefits to people who have lost their jobs over vaccine mandates include a faster end to the pandemic, increasing employment, prizing the value of personal responsibility and advancing economic liberty, fiscal responsibility and limited government.

The reasons to support this policy? None that are compelling.

Michael R. Strain is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is director of economic policy studies and Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of “The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It).”

(12) comments


None of the proponents of the experimental jabs ever mention that the companies pushing them have indemnity from any damage or problems. They are hauling in billions of dollars, risk free, on these mandates. They also continue to call it a “vaccine” when it neither stops anyone from getting or spreading Covid. At best, the shots are a treatment. Arguing otherwise proves the skeptics of these jabs are right to distrust the pushers of them and you have lost your marbles as you redefine, in real time, what words mean so they fit your point of view.


Nonsense post! Watch so you don't walk off the end of the earth as you bury your head in the sand...



Yes it is some illness drivel



"...some Republican politicians place fighting the culture war ahead of sound economic policy, traditional conservative principles and the best interests of their own constituents."

They've really gone over the edge now.

These are the same people that preach "personal responsibility"; "actions have consequences"; and small government.

If this is not the pinnacle of hypocrisy, it's awfully close.

The message seems to be that only if those in power agree with whatever stupid decision a person made, will they will help them. Like an alcoholic having no problem paying for rehab (using OPM) for other alcoholics, but leaving drug addicts to fend for themselves.


We know that the current Covid crisis is largely fueled by unvaccinated and undervaccinated people. We just got a new record for most Covid patients in the FHH ICU, and it will probably get worse before it gets better. What is the solution for right now?


Funny how the positivity rate keeps climbing, but the ICU numbers are about the same as during early covid and the delta. Can that be because omicron is proving to be more easily spread and less lethal just like it was reported by the South African doctor? You remember that, it was just before the Scarecrow shut down travel from SA preventing brown and black people from entering the US.


W.T.F., yes, agreed,omicron appears less deadly, but it is more infectious. The death rate takes at least two weeks to rise, and we are in fact seeing the. Number of deaths increasing. I provided links to the official CDC charts earlier.


How are the numbers in South Africa doing? They are ahead of us on the timeline.


maybe if the unemployed who decided not to go back to work and keep trying to live off the government including not paying rent and mortgages then we would not have this problem related to the job market and why punish those who worked during the first year of the pandemic when there was no vaccine to keep folks comfortable in their life style... now when they are forced out of their jobs because of government people like this writer complains they should not get unemployment benefits - really so those lazy folks who are sitting around doing nothing looking for the next check from the government can stay comfortable... liberals never understand the economy!


Liberals never understand the economy - I know, like that grand Republican idea of trickle down economics! [lol][lol][lol]


Make a choice, pay the consequences for it.


I agree, hay. Choose not to get the vaccine and suffer the consequences.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. No vulgar, racist, sexist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, not personal attacks or ad hominem criticisms.
Be civil. Don't threaten. Don't lie. Don't bait. Don't degrade others.
No trolling. Stay on topic.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
No deceptive names. Apparently misleading usernames are not allowed.
Say it once. No repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link for abusive posts.

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.