Analysts: Early End To Enhanced Federal Unemployment Benefits Was Likely Ineffectual In Oklahoma

Sep 23, 2021

Analysts with the Oklahoma Policy Institute told state lawmakers Tuesday that Gov. Kevin Stitt's early termination of enhanced federal unemployment payments meant to help individuals weather the COVID-19 pandemic likely had little, if any, effect on improving workforce participation.

"There is strong and compelling academic evidence" that states that ended the benefits early saw no statistically significant improvement in their labor forces, according to Oklahoma Policy Institute fellow Josie Phillips, speaking at an interim study sponsored by state Sen. Carri Hicks (D-Oklahoma City). 

"Ending the unemployment benefits was giving us small potatoes -- if any potatoes at all," Phillips said.

Phillips and Paul Shinn, budget and tax senior analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said it's more likely that openings being low-quality and low-wage, potential workers fear becoming infected with COVID-19, and a lack of affordable child care are contributing to the lower labor market participation.

"No [one] theory explains what's going on here," Shinn said. "Every one of us has heard somebody say that at least one of those theories is right, no matter what research says."

"Let's be honest: It's been a hundred years since our economy faced something like this," Shinn said. "We really don't know how it will come out."