Fact check: No, workers aren't staying home because of 'free money' from the government

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Despite Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo's claims, experts say there are several complicated reasons people may be opting out of the workforce.

Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo responded to a report on the latest jobs numbers Friday by falsely claiming that workers are staying home because they are receiving "free money" from the federal government.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday morning that the economy had added 531,000 jobs in October and that the unemployment rate had dropped 0.2% from September, to 4.6%. The report also showed that more than 5.5 million jobs had been added to the economy since President Joe Biden took office in January.

Fox News acknowledged the raw data in a report on "America's Newsroom."

Bartiromo, while admitting that the report was better than expected, downplayed it during an appearance on the program, pointing out that the labor participation rate, or the percentage of the population currently working or seeking work, had hovered around 61.6% for some time.

"This number has not gone anywhere since the beginning of the year," she said. "That tells you that there is perhaps a long-term issue forming in our economy that people do not want to go back to work."

She continued, "It's partly bad policy in terms of this free money coming to these people, that they feel like, I might as well just stay home rather than go to work and be productive, I could probably get two or three gigs and make more money with the government checks that I'm getting. That's a real issue there."

As Quartz reported in early October, experts have suggested several reasons the participation rate may be stagnant, among them that retirees are dropping out of the workforce permanently, parents without child care are being forced to stay home with their children, and the pandemic's resurgence in the first half of the year discouraged people from going back to a workplace.

There is no evidence to support Bartiromo's assertion, however, that "free money" is contributing to jobs numbers, echoing just one of a larger series of criticisms leveled by Fox News and Republican leaders who have largely rejected legislative provisions intended to help millions of workers.

In September, the $300 per week in additional unemployment benefits that were included in the American Rescue Plan to help those impacted by pandemic-related job losses expired. Despite complaints that these payments were discouraging workers from seeking jobs, the participation rate did not change once they ended.

Similar complaints have been made about the child tax credit, direct cash payments included in the plan that families are able to put toward necessities such as food.

Meanwhile, some workers have said that, as experts suggested, they still harbor concerns about contracting COVID-19, which remains a threat despite the availability of vaccines.

The GOP has opposed vaccine mandates to date, further complicating the problem. On Friday, a consortium of Republican governors announced they would sue the federal government for implementing such mandates despite public support and evidence that they work against the spread of the coronavirus.

Workers have also said that the lack of access to child care is affecting the process of seeking a job. In a Census Household Pulse survey from March, 6.3 million people said they were not working because they had to take care of a child at home. An additional 2.1 million said they had to stay home to take care of an older person.

Inadequate wages have also weighed on labor participation. Economists say that as the economy reopens, many workers are opting for jobs in higher-paying industries or jobs that pay more than those they worked in previously, while others are holding out for higher salaries in their existing positions.

As University of Michigan economist and Obama White House alum Betsey Stevenson explained to the Wall Street Journal in October, "If Amazon is paying $15 an hour to work in a warehouse, that might be a more rewarding job than to be a child-care worker. Child-care workers just have more options right now."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.