How much is just right? Another look at unemployment compensation in Pa.

Pennsylvania

WRIGHTSVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) — After a recent story about restaurant staffing challenges — caused, according to some restauranteurs, by enhanced unemployment benefits — abc27 News heard from viewers who thought the situation was more complex than they depicted.

So abc27 News decided to take a closer look at the complexities.

John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville seems to have the same problem a lot of restaurants have, at least among those lucky enough to have survived the pandemic: trouble recruiting employees, particularly kitchen staff. Jim Switzenberg, the restaurant’s operating partner and director of operations, says the reason is no mystery: unemployment benefits that last longer and are more generous than usual — so long and so generous, he says, that some people are reluctant to go back to work.

He blames the system, not the people.

“You can’t really judge them for wanting to stay home and make the same money, more money or pretty close to the same amount of money” on unemployment as they would make working, Switzenberg said.

But Stephen Herzenberg, an economist and executive director of the left-leaning Keystone Research Center, questions the idea of a cause-and-effect relationship between enhanced benefits and difficulty recruiting.

“Some people are scared, and so if they had no unemployment benefits, they wouldn’t go back to work,” Herzenberg said.

And he said although the pandemic is still new enough that no one has long-term data to analyze, “there’s a little bit of research showing there’s not a connection between benefit generosity and people’s willingness to go back to work,” based on the first few months of the pandemic.

Seth Reheard, John Wright Restaurant’s patio sous chef, said he couldn’t wait to go back to work, even though the restaurant had made clear that it would hold employees’ positions for them until they were comfortable returning to work, whenever that was. But as for other people in society?

“There are people who are taking advantage of the system,” he said. “But there are people who are at home because of loved ones or themselves who are higher risk.”

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