America is hiring, but it isn’t back to work. There are 8.12 million open jobs nationwide, more than half a million more than before the pandemic started. The job openings rate—the number of open jobs as a centage of total jobs in the U.S.—increased to 5.3% in March, the highest on record.
Yet, workers are nowhere to be found. Jobs that used to get 100 applications are now getting only two or three. Interviews are plagued with no-shows, and hiring fairs are reporting zero attendees. A Tampa McDonald’s is offering people $50 to show up for an interview.
My own nonprofit, Better Together, organizes hiring events that have helped more than 8,000 Floridians find local job openings. We’ve hosted job fairs in rural and urban areas, at public housing projects, and had people lined up down entire blocks waiting for opportunities. We typically expect an average of 400 job seekers to show up at each event. But this year, we only had 87 people show up across three different job fairs in Bonita Springs, St. Petersburg and Lehigh Acres.
Employers are begging us to help them find workers. Normally it’s the other way around. We have spent months trying to help them recruit employees, but we can’t compete with the unemployment bonus. In Florida, the average son can now collect up to $3,652 a month in enhanced benefits, tax credits and food stamps. That amounts to more than $20 an hour. But this “free money” comes at a price.
Getting paid to stay home is destroying mental health and families. Work gives people structure, dignity, confidence and a sense of purpose and pride. When parents get up in the morning, get dressed, and go to work, they are setting an example for their children to follow. According to Pew Research, 70% of unemployed adults feel more stressed than usual, and more than half have experienced emotional or mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. More than 40% have had more arguments than usual with family and friends.
The longer people are out of work, the more damage it can do to mental health. “Many people do go into depression, they have feelings of worthlessness,” Dr. Alise Bartley of the Community Counseling Center at Florida Gulf Coast University stated recently in an interview “And if you’re not in a good place it’s really hard to put your best foot forward to be able to interview for a job.”
After more than a million Floridians lost their jobs during the pandemic, crisis hotlines began ringing off the hook and increasing numbers of children were placed outside their homes. It’s not a coincidence—these two events, unemployment and family breakdown, are directly related.
We have witnessed this firsthand in our Better Families program, which offers parents a dignified way to overcome hardship without losing children to foster care. We’ve served more than 3,100 children with a 98% success rate, meaning families no longer required further interaction with the Department of Children and Families up to two years after reunification.
When families fall into crisis – often due to homelessness, addiction, mental illness, jail, etc. – our host families care for children while their parents work toward a better life with our volunteer coaches and mentors. For 80% of the families we serve, life began spiraling when somebody lost a job.
Work was the critical piece that kept those parents strong, and families together. Not money – work.
Florida is finally separating itself from federal financial dependency. The state now requires unemployed workers to show proof they’re looking for jobs. And on June 26, the state will refuse to accept – and pay – $300 a week offered by the Federal Unemployment Insurance Programs.
Now I’m watching people we served who struggled with alcohol and depression, slowing starting to drink away their days and slide back into addiction. I’m seeing parents that have fought so hard to survive, only to unravel and fall apart on their couches.
One of these struggling parents is Sarah, a mother of three children. When we met Sarah, she was out of work and collecting government aid. She was struggling with alcohol and depression, and about to lose her children to foster care.
While her children were safely living with one of our host families, Sarah attended one of our job fairs and secured a job on the spot. It changed her life. A job gave her freedom, dignity, and a work community. She felt pride in her ability to provide for her children, and it showed.
When the pandemic hit and the daycares closed, she had nobody to watch her children. She got laid off, started collecting enhanced unemployment checks, and now makes more money staying at home. Her mental health has declined, and once again she is struggling with alcohol. Sarah moved mountains to save her family, but now she is about to lose her children.
Sarah represents thousands of Americans who are making more money than ever while at home – but they are deteriorating. This is the real unemployment crisis. If we don’t help get people back to work, we will have a pandemic aftershock of mental health, child neglect and broken families. If you know of an individual or family in need of our programs, please contact us. We’re ready to help.
Megan Rose is the CEO of Better Together, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children out of foster care by strengthening families through work and relational support. Learn more at www.BetterTogetherUS.org.