Getting everyone back to work

Getting the economy on the road to recovery means getting workers back to work. But if those workers can’t make as much money on the job as they make on unemployment, the nation faces a double-headed problem: Unemployment coffers continue to be depleted, and companies that need workers on the clock don’t have them.

Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) has proposed an intriguing solution — pay now-unemployed workers a $450 weekly return-to-work bonus through July.

The idea has caught the eye of Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, and it should likewise get a good look from Congressional Democrats who have instead been arguing for continued expansion of the unemployment benefits approved in March.

That $2 trillion stimulus bill increased weekly unemployment benefits by $600 to get out-of-work Americans through an unprecedented job-loss event. It has saved many families from economic ruin, but it also created a disincentive for some to return to work.

Between 60 percent and 70 percent of people drawing unemployment now are bringing in more with that enhanced benefit than they did with their paychecks, according to research from the American Action Forum and the University of Chicago.

The gap is even more stark for people at the bottom of the earnings ladder. The bottom 20 percent of wage earners are bringing in about twice as much money as they did when they were working.

It’s not crazy for workers to choose a higher unemployment check over a lower paycheck. It’s just math.

Sen. Portman’s suggestion solves that math problem by eliminating the need to ruthlessly pursue workers who don’t give up unemployment to return to work and instead gives them a solid economic incentive to get back on the job.

Congress is now negotiating a fifth coronavirus response bill, and leaders from both parties and both houses should include Mr. Portman’s provision in it.

— The Toledo Blade; Online: