Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Sen. Ethan Corson, and Reps. Susan Ruiz and Lindsay Vaughn are scheduled to send updates this week.
Below is the submission from Democratic state Rep. Susan Ruiz of House District 23, covering parts of Lenexa, Overland Park and Shawnee.
Over the last couple of weeks there have been many news pieces highlighting worker shortages across the country including Kansas.
Some have pointed to the continued availability of federal enhanced unemployment benefits (which amount to $300 per week) as a major contributing factor keeping Kansans from going back to work. Gov. Laura Kelly has received two letters from coalitions of business, public and not-for-profit entities, urging her to stop enhanced unemployment benefits now, ahead of their scheduled end in September.
The worker shortage is bad enough that some employers are offering “sign on” bonus for new or returning workers. A couple of states are even giving “one-time sign on bonuses” for new workers relocating to their states.
It is disturbing to me hearing others shaming people for receiving unemployment benefits and not going back to work. I’ve heard legislators do the same thing, saying things like, “I’m not in favor of giving money to people to stay at home to do nothing.”
Typically, most of the lowest paying jobs are in the leisure and hospitality industry. The majority of these low-paying jobs are done by people of color, women and immigrants.
The workers in these jobs have benefited greatly from enhanced payments during the pandemic. These enhanced benefits have allowed unemployed people to buy groceries and pay rent and utilities.
Many people worked more than one job prior to the pandemic just to be able to meet their family needs. Women haven’t totally gone back to work because they don’t want to return to jobs with high potential exposure to COVID-19 out of fear of bringing the virus home.
Also, daycare continues to be an issue for working families. Many people are still unable to find affordable daycare which would allow them to go back to work.
Also, our country hasn’t solved the issue of immigration. We desperately need a clear path to citizenship for every undocumented immigrant currently living and working in our country and for people waiting outside our borders to find good jobs in our businesses and industries. Doing these things would infuse thousands of people into our workforce.
As a legislator, I received countless emails from Kansans needing unemployment assistance. Constituents have described in detail the losses they have endured from losing their jobs, medical insurance and daycare services.
Many became homeless or were forced to move in with relatives in order to keep their family together. Some could no longer afford medications for chronic diseases. People who have never asked for public assistance did so in order to provide food for their families.
However, not one person I spoke with ever said they wanted to stay home and do nothing. People reported job seeking; going back to school or learning a new skill. People want to go back to work and are also prepared to ask for a living wage.
We have called many of these folks “essential workers”. They deserve to be paid a living wage, in line with the essential workers they are.