250,000 open jobs? Gov. Bill Lee continues to mislead public on jobs to justify federal unemployment cuts

Analysis: Only 3% of job listings pay above family poverty line, people out of work drastically outnumber recent job postings

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Lee continues to mislead Tennesseans on the number of current job openings and the quality of those positions—peddling anecdotes rather than evidence — in defense of his decision to end federal unemployment enhancements for people who lost a job through no fault of their own.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in 2020, provided $300 a week to Americans who were laid off or lost work throughout the pandemic, but, in May, Gov. Lee announced he is ending Tennessee’s involvement with the federal unemployment program early July.

His decision will eliminate unemployment benefits entirely for nearly 70,000 Tennesseans and reduce payments for 50,000 more who will still qualify for the state benefit, which maxes out at $275 a week.

The governor is cutting off federal support for workers because he insists there are a 250,000 open jobs in the state. He’s repeated this exaggeration in some form every time he’s been asked about his decision to reject the federal unemployment boost.

But Gov. Lee’s talking point crumbles under scrutiny. Senate Democratic Caucus staff performed a county-by-county review of the jobs board Gov. Lee continues to reference, Jobs4tn.gov, and found that only a few jobs could support a working family and the vast majority of postings were more than a month old.

Screenshot from Jobs4TN.gov, a jobs board Gov. Bill Lee often mentions to justify rejecting federal aid for out-of-work Tennesseans.

Though Gov. Lee often mentions the total number of job postings, he seldom mentions the quality of the jobs that are posted. Of the 257,000 postings available on June 10, only 3 percent of the jobs (8,485) publicly listed annual salaries above $20,000.

The federal poverty line for a family of three is $21,960.

A recent study, produced by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, says cutting the enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits early in order to push people into jobs that pay too little, endanger their health, or result in a longer commute hurts the local economy and the recovery.

Ultimately, workers forego the potential for future better earnings instead of matching their new job to their skills, experience and family demands, the study says.

Of the “quarter million job postings,” nearly 192,000 are more than a month old, the analysis shows. And when a user searches recent job postings, Jobs4TN produces far fewer hits than there are people looking for work.

Lee’s website returned only 45,000 new job postings statewide in the last two weeks and just under 66,000 in the last the month. There are at least 167,000 Tennesseans who are unemployed, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of people who are out of work drastically outnumbers the number of recent job postings on Jobs4TN.gov, a website Gov. Bill Lee has used to justify cutting federal aid for workers.

When reviewing jobs posted in the last 30 days, only one county out of 95 — Anderson County — showed more job listings than the estimated number of unemployed people.

For instance, in Maury County, which has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 8 percent, there are nearly 5,000 people looking for work with just 709 job listings in the last month.

In Perry County, which has a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, nearly 300 people are out of work with only six jobs posted within the last month.

The congressional analysis shows Tennessee’s economy will lose $486 million due to Gov. Lee’s decision to cancel enhanced unemployment benefits for out-of-work Tennesseans.

“By ending these programs early, states are refusing billions of already appropriated federal dollars that could be spent in local groceries, restaurants and retail shops,” the report says.

The study makes clear that Gov. Lee’s decision will hurt both families, where people lost a job through no fault of their own, and local businesses that could lose paying customers.

Meanwhile, Gov. Lee is giving special treatment to business owners. While the governor is ending federal aid for workers, Lee is pushing $44.6 million worth of new federal assistance to Tennessee business owners.

Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) called Lee’s slight against out-of-work Tennesseans an “immoral double standard.”

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