Unemployment ‘safety net’ in jeopardy as Iowa considers slashing unemployment benefits

An Iowa legislative subcommittee on Feb. 1 will discuss cutting unemployment benefits, which could have dire consequences for Black Iowans.

"There are so many reasons for the worker shortage, but we need to recognize in some cases, it's because the government has taken away the need or desire to work. The safety net has become a hammock," said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during her Condition of the State address on Jan. 11.

During her remarks at the Iowa Capitol, Reynolds said there’s dignity in work that gives people meaning and purpose and called for revamping Iowa’s unemployment system into a “reemployment system.”

“So when it's degraded, when idleness is rewarded with enhanced unemployment, and stimulus checks, when work begins to seem optional rather than fundamental, then society begins to decay. I worry that we're reaching that point where workers who stay home are being put ahead of workers who show up,” she said, during the address.

Reynolds said six months is too long for Iowans to collect unemployment benefits. Now, House study bill, HSB 631, would bring cuts to Iowans' unemployment benefits, including:

  • Creating a one-week waiting period before benefits begin
  • Changing the requirements to accept new employment
  • Reducing weekly benefits from 26 weeks to 16 weeks

The proposal could have dire consequences for Black Iowans who are disproportionately unemployed in the state.

HSB 631 will be discussed at 1 p.m. on Feb. 1 at the Iowa Capitol, Room 19 on the ground floor.

“Growth and recovery continue throughout Iowa, with positive trends across many sectors of our state’s economy,” said Beth Townsend, director of Iowa Workforce Development, in a Jan. 25 press release. “More than 45,000 Iowans joined the employed last year as Iowa reignited its focus on job growth and getting citizens back to work. We intend to build on this momentum this year by using our Reemployment case management and other improvements to help more and more Iowans find new careers in 2022.”

Iowa Capitol. Photo by Black Iowa News.

Nationally, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was 3.9% in Dec. 2021, compared to 7.1% for Blacks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Iowa’s unemployment rate was 3.5% in December, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

The proposed changes could dramatically affect Black Iowans whose unemployment rate is often twice that of whites. In 2019, the unemployment rate for Black Iowans was 6.3%. In 2020, the unemployment rate for Black Iowans was 10.4%, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

According to a Brookings Institution report, the U.S. unemployment rate by race for the three-month period between October and December 2021 found unemployment rates had declined among whites, Asians and Latinos. In Dec. 2021, the unemployment rate for whites was 3.2%, Asians 3.8% and Latinos 4.9%. But the unemployment rate for Blacks increased from 6.5% in November to 7.1% in December, Brookings found.

  • Brookings found Black teens’ unemployment rate dropped slightly from 22% to 21% but remains the highest of any group.
  • The unemployment rate for Black men decreased from 7.2% in Nov. 2021 to 7% in Dec. 2021.
  • The unemployment rate for Black women increased from 4.9% in Nov. 2021 to 6.2% in Dec. 2021.

“Nevertheless, the growing racial disparity in employment underscores that the economic recovery is still being impeded by systemic bias against Black workers — particularly, Black women and Black teens,” according to Brookings researchers.

According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, Reynolds signed a bill, approved during a special legislative session, that protects Iowans who are fired for refusing COVID-19 vaccination and allows them to collect unemployment benefits.

Banner: Unemployment graphic via Canva

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