US Public Supports Extending Weekly $600 Unemployment Benefit Until End of Year, but Considers the President’s $400 Weekly Top-Up Sufficient

August 19, 2020
Economy | Employment | Welfare
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The CARES Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, provided a $600 weekly top-up from the federal government to the unemployment benefits provided by each state. Although the CARES ACT expired on July 31, the Senate has adjourned until Labor Day with Republican and Democrat lawmakers unable to come to an agreement on its next coronavirus stimulus package.

Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that a strong plurality (49%) of US respondents would support extending the $600 federal top-up until the end of the year, with only 25% opposing such a course of action. 

An extension of the $600 top-up until the end of the year would attract the support of a plurality (42%) of likely Trump voters, and a majority (60%) of likely Biden voters.

As a result of Congress’ failure to agree an extension, President Trump signed an executive memorandum on August 8 introducing a weekly $400 top-up to unemployment benefits, $300 of which are meant to be provided by the federal government and $100 by the states. Nevertheless, given the current financial conditions, few States are expected to provide the extra $100.

A plurality of respondents (37%) said they consider the weekly $400 unemployment benefit set forth by the President’s executive memorandum to be “about right,” whereas 31% said it is “not enough” and 15% said it is “too much.”

Whereas a majority (55%) of likely Trump voters considers the new $400 benefit to be “about right,” a majority of likely Biden voters (51%) considers it to be “not enough.” The views of voters in regard to the amount of money unemployed Americans should receive mirror the nature of negotiations in Congress, where Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for unemployment benefits to remain at $600 per week, or even be increased.

On the other hand, many Republican lawmakers have argued that the weekly $600 unemployment benefit (which adds up to $31,200 over the course of a year, a slightly lower amount than the $33,706 median personal income in the United States) is discouraging many from looking for work. Our research found that a plurality of respondents in the United States (45%) agree that the weekly federal unemployment benefit discourages the jobless from looking for work. Meanwhile, 28% disagreed with this statement.

Reflecting the position of each party, 64% of likely Trump voters agreed that the federal unemployment benefit discourages the jobless from looking for work, whereas only 29% of likely Biden voters agreed with this statement.

Respondents were sharply divided over whether the federal unemployment benefit has been allocated to people who truly need it or not: 33% agreed and 36% disagreed that many people who receive the federal unemployment benefit do not need it, a difference that barely falls outside the margin of error of this poll. As with other questions on this topic, the division largely fell along party lines.

Although a strong plurality of respondents would have supported an extension of the weekly $600 unemployment benefit from the CARES Act until the end of this year, a smaller plurality considers that the new weekly benefit introduced by the President’s executive memorandum constitutes the right amount of federal support for the jobless. From the results of our research, it is clear that a large proportion of Americans are convinced that unemployment benefits disincentivize work, and a significant minority of the US public remain convinced that benefits are being allocated to people who do not need them.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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