Why is unemployment high right now? Unemployed Americans blame the pandemic, not government payments

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
May 24, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

The United States is experiencing a labor shortage among restaurant and tourism industries, prompting speculation about the reason. Some theorize that potential workers are still needed at home or have ongoing health concerns, while others believe that federal unemployment benefits are too generous, and thus, incentivizing people to not work.

Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic currently receive a $300-per-week federal supplement on top of standard unemployment insurance of $600 a week. Many states are looking to cut federal jobless benefits enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that is expected to cease extra unemployment checks for millions of Americans this summer. Republican leaders are hopeful the move will send people back to work

Data from the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that three-quarters of Republicans (76%) believe that government payments are making it too easy for the unemployed to not work, compared to the one in five Republicans (20%) who say the pandemic is what makes it hard for Americans to find employment. Three in five Democrats (62%) blame the pandemic for the high levels of unemployment, rather than the government payments being too generous (24%). 

Those who are currently unemployed (53%) are twice as likely to say that the pandemic makes it hard to find work, rather than government payments incentivizing unemployment (25%). Americans who are retired are twice as likely to believe the reverse: that government payments are keeping unemployed Americans off the clock (61% to 28%). 

The early end to federal unemployment benefits is taking place in at least 21 states, with more states proposing similar measures. Americans themselves are split on whether the $300-per-week federal supplement should continue (41%) on top of standard unemployment insurance or come to an end (43%).  

Democrats favor keeping it by 63% to 21%, as do those who are currently unemployed (52% to 24%). But three-quarters of Republicans prefer to bring the program to an end (74% to 18%), as well as a plurality of Independents (46% to 38%). Those who are working full-time are split (46% continue vs 44% end), while retirees are twice as likely to say the program should end (60%) as continue (28%). 

As vaccinations increase and people begin returning to normal activities, there is a sense from some that the government should take a step back. One-third of Americans (33%) say that the government has done enough to help those who were impacted by the pandemic and should start doing less. Three in 10 adults (29%) say the government needs to do more, and one-quarter (26%) say the government is currently doing the right amount. 

Related: Why YouGov is changing how we ask people whether they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Yahoo News/YouGov poll  

Methodology: The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,561 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 11 to 13, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.6 percent. 

Image: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels