Paying People Not to Work


America is slowing down. You may have noticed the last time you waited in line at the drive-thru of your favorite fast-food hamburger chain. Perhaps it was the length of time you spent on the phone waiting for a representative to book an airfare or to make a service complaint. It’s taking longer these days to do everything.

It isn’t hard to figure out why this situation exists. The U.S. Labor Department tells us there are an all-time record 9.3 million unfilled jobs – but more than 9 million Americans remain unemployed at the same time. How is this possible, you say? Because the government is paying people not to work.

The problem has bipartisan roots. It began during the Trump administration when the Covid pandemic crisis led to overly generous welfare payments for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Congress appropriated an extra $600/week on top of the normal unemployment benefits to get people through the crisis. No one ever explained why the unemployed needed more money than usual during this period of unemployment. The payments were included in a $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in late March.

These extra benefits ended at the end of July, 2020. But with the lingering effects of the pandemic on the economy, Congress passed another Covid relief bill for $900 billion in December, 2020, and extended extra unemployment benefits of $300 per week for 11 more weeks. Economists warned this would delay the economic recovery – and it did.

Not to be outdone in government handouts, the Biden administration wasted no time after inauguration in pushing for another Covid-relief package, this one called the American Rescue Plan. This was passed without a single Republican vote and cost an additional $1.9 trillion. It provides $300 per week extra unemployment benefits through September 30th.

The impact of this additional money was predictable. Economists Casey B. Mulligan and Stephen Moore accurately predicted the results in The Wall Street Journal. “President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-relief package is being sold as an effort to ‘get America back to work.’ It will do the opposite. We estimate that between five and eight million fewer Americans will be employed over the next six months if the bill passes.” Regular readers of this blog will recognize I discussed this in an earlier post called Covid-19 Relief Bill Kills Jobs.

Four months later we can see they were right. In an effort to undue this misguided government largesse, 25 Republican governors have suspended the $300 per week supplemental unemployment benefits beginning this month. Not a single Democratic governor has followed their lead, despite the record number of unfulfilled jobs.

E.J. Antoni and Casey B. Mulligan, writing in The Wall Street Journal, ask the logical question – Why? Defenders of these payments argue unemployment-insurance cash pay only about $32,000 per year. But Antoni and Mulligan say that’s only a small piece of the welfare pie available to the unemployed. First of all, an unemployed family with two parents can double up on unemployment benefits, receiving an extra $600 per week on top of normal benefits that average $375 per week for each parent. Add in virtually free health insurance with ObamaCare expansions and free premiums for those who stay on their former employer’s plan, food stamps, and $3000 per child payments. Plus, they don’t have to pay payroll taxes.

These authors report the results from a new study for the Committee to Unleash Prosperity:

  • In 21 states and the D.C., households can receive the wage equivalent of $25 per hour in benefits with no one working.
  • In 19 states, benefits are the equivalent of $100,000 per year in salary for a family of four with two unemployed parents.
  • In all but two of the blue states, the $300 supplemental unemployment insurance benefit pus other welfare can pay more than the wage equivalent of a $15 minimum wage.
  • In the blue states that haven’t suspended the $300 bonus, the average annual unemployment insurance benefit for a family of four with two parents out of work is more than $72,000. Median household income in the U.S. is about $68,000.


In other words, people are being paid more than the median household income to stay home!

It should be no surprise then, that employers are having difficulty finding people for jobs. This government assistance has gone way beyond any needed assistance due to the pandemic. It’s time these bonus payments ended – for the good of the economy and the nation.

Covid’s Impact on Mental Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had a bad year. Mixed messaging from the CDC has left millions of Americans confused when recommendations have fluctuated and statistics have conveyed false information.

Monica Gandhi and Jeanne Noble, writing in The Wall Street Journal, give us a good example. The CDC released a report recently warning that adolescent hospitalizations due to Covid-19 were on the rise. The media picked up the message and ran with it. But it wasn’t true. The CDC misrepresented the data and played down a more important finding that provides further evidence that pandemic-control measures are likely having a serious adverse impact on young people’s mental health.

In fact, adolescent hospitalizations for Covid-19 were back down to 0.6 per 100,000 by late May, before the CDC report was published, and well below the rate of 2.6 for the adult U.S. population. Covid-19 cases among children in 2021 have now fallen by 84% and hospitalizations are down by 69% since January, thanks largely to adult vaccinations.

But the real story about adolescents is this: 20% of teen hospitalizations in the study between January 1 and March 31, 2021 were for psychiatric emergencies, not Covid. The available data, though difficult to obtain due to pandemic-related closures, point to a crisis in adolescent mental health. We know that lockdowns and school closures have led to greater incidences of obesity and eating disorders, according to experts at the Stanford Children’s Health network.

The pandemic has reduced overall healthcare utilization rates for all types of elective healthcare, including cancer screening and mental health services. This exacerbated what the CDC has identified as a pre-existing mental health treatment gap for children in the U.S.

The closure of schools has made quantifying the pandemic’s impact on mental heath difficult. Referrals to child services were down in some places by as much as 50% in 2020, indicating major blind spots in awareness of child neglect. School systems were previously common sources of referrals for suspected child abuse and mental-health service agencies.

We do know data from Children’s Hospital of Oakland show a 66% increase in 10 to 17-year-olds screening positive for active or recent suicidal ideation in its emergency department between March and October 2020. The proportion of children seeking emergency mental-health services who required immediate hospitalization, including for eating disorders, rose 75% in 2020 compared to 2019. The Children’s Hospital of San Francisco emergency department reported 21% of adolescents treated in January 2021 expressed active or recent suicidal ideation, up from 14% in January 2020. These data reflect the highest proportion of suicidal adolescents ever recorded in this hospital.

Compare the rates of suicide between adults and young people. The California Department of Public Health shows 134 people under 18 died by suicide in 2020, up from 108 in 2019, a 24% increase. Adult suicide in California actually declined by 11% in the same period. Compare these statistics to the number of deaths by Covid. Of 62,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic, only 23 have been in people under age 18 years. It would seem that the risk of suicide from the lockdowns of Covid represented a greater risk to adolescents than Covid itself.

Similar experiences occurred in other states. Colorado Children’s Hospital issued a press release declaring “a state of emergency” due to demands for pediatric mental-health services with mental-health emergency department visits up 90% in 2021 over 2019. Connecticut also reported a similar surge. The authors say it is likely that data on emergency department utilization and hospitalizations are catching only the tip of the iceberg.

It is not coincidental that California has the lowest rates of children returned to in-person learning of all 50 states. This should be a wake-up call for all Californians as they consider their vote in the recall election for their governor, Gavin Newsome. It should also be a warning to those public health officials who would call for more lockdowns in future pandemics.


Underestimating Natural Immunity


The rates of Covid-19 infection are falling fast and vaccines are getting much of the deserved credit. But what about natural immunity? The once-revered and now embattled Dr. Anthony Fauci told us months ago that we had to have vaccination rates of 70 to 85% before we would ever reach “herd immunity.” But there was never any mention of the importance of natural immunity.

Dr. Marty Makary, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has been an outspoken critic of this lack of accounting for the impact of natural immunity. I wrote of this three months ago in a post called Herd Immunity is Near. Now he brings us up to date on our progress in a recent Op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Makary says today some 80 to 85% of Americans are immune to the virus. More than 64% have received at least one vaccine shot and, of those who haven’t, roughly half have natural immunity due to prior infection. What’s more, this natural immunity is effective and durable, and public health officials should pay it heed.

Although only about 10% of Americans have had confirmed positive Covid tests, four to six times as many have likely had the infection. This data comes from a February study in Nature which used antibody screenings in late summer 2020 to estimate there had been seven times as many actual cases as confirmed cases. A similar study, by the University of Albany and New York State Department of Health, revealed that by the end of March 2020 – the first month of New York’s pandemic – 23% of the city’s population had antibodies. This number certainly grew exponentially as the pandemic spread.

This means that with more than 8 of 10 adults protected from either contracting or transmitting the virus, it can’t readily propagate by jumping around in the population. Dr. Makary says this is the definition of “herd immunity” – broadly defined on the Johns Hopkins Covid information webpage as “when most of a population is immune.”

The proof of this is the declining rates of infection and hospitalization all across the nation. In Los Angeles, 45% of city residents were found to have antibodies in February. Once vaccines were introduced, the seven-day average of daily Covid cases fell from a peak of more than 15,000 on January 11 to 253 four months later, even as people became more mobile. This dramatic drop in rates can’t be accounted for by vaccination rates alone, which were less than 50% at the time.

Some are concerned that virus variants could change all this. But none of the hundreds of variants observed so far have evaded either natural or vaccinated immunity with the three vaccines authorized in the U.S.

Should previously infected individuals get vaccinated?

Dr. Makary says healthy patients with natural immunity need get only one shot, and even that may not be necessary. It is possible one shot will increase the longevity of the natural immunity. A University of Pennsylvania study of people previously infected with Covid found a single vaccine dose triggered a strong immune response, but a second dose had no appreciable increased response. Another study by New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine concluded “the antibody response to the first vaccine dose in individuals with pre-existing immunity is equal to or even exceeds the titers found in never-infected individuals after the second dose.”

Understanding the power and significance of natural immunity allows health officials to make sound, scientific recommendations on public health policy. Dr. Makary summarizes his opinion as follows: “Dr. Fauci said last Aug. 13 that when you have fewer than 10 cases per 100,000, “you should be able to open up safely and clearly.” The U.S. reached that point in mid-May. It’s time to stop the fear mongering and level with the public about the incredible capabilities of both modern medical research and the human body’s immune system.”