Labor Secretary Says $600 Unemployment Benefits Won't Be Extended, Paid People Not to Work

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia on Tuesday said the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits shouldn't be extended past July 31, reiterating that it allowed a majority of jobless Americans to earn more not to work.

The head of the U.S. Department of Labor said the $600 a week in federally enhanced unemployment benefits was not created through "careful science" when Congress passed it in March. Scalia said the extra money in individual Americans' hands was more necessary as part of the CARES Act, but now that the economy is reopening, he said it's more about fulfilling Democrats' plans to raise the minimum wage. The labor secretary said 70 percent of people who collected unemployment during the pandemic were earning more money than they did in their jobs.

Scalia noted on Fox Business Tuesday, "I don't see $600 as continuing" in a potential second coronavirus stimulus package.

"I don't think there was a lot of careful science that went into that specific number [$600], but we do know that for 70 percent of the people on unemployment it's more than they got while the working," he continued. "In the state of Massachusetts, on an annualized basis, you could bring home $75,000 a year right now on unemployment."

According to Labor Department data through June 27, about 32 million Americans were collecting unemployment benefits. Benefits paid out by the states averaged to $383 a week.

"With respect to the $600 a week benefit, that was something, you know, extraordinary that was done back in March. It was important when we were closing our economy to provide a substantial benefit," Scalia continued. "We had workers who were being told across the country 'you just can't go to work, it's not allowed right now.' But we're in a different place."

Scalia reiterated that if Americans "do the math," they'll see that the extra $600 works out to about $15 an hour.

"Which has been sort of the Democrats' target minimum wage," he said. "But that's not the end of it, you'd get about an average of another $10 for that hour in state unemployment. So it comes out to about a $25-an-hour payment on unemployment. Again it was important to do something substantial when the economy was going to close but we're in a different place—I don't see $600 as continuing or really being the right place to start the discussion."

For many Americans collecting jobless benefits, their added $600 already ended on July 25 or July 26, depending on the state in which they reside.

Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo asked if the Trump administration believes a middle ground has to be worked out before the upcoming August recess. Scalia responded optimistically and said the president's first priority is "simply getting people back to work." Bartiromo began the segment by saying many Republicans are concerned the extra $600 "is paying people more money to stay home than to get back to work."

"[The White House wants to] sustain the job growth we've seen over the last couple months and incentivize business growth and incentivize hiring," he added.

Newsweek reached out to the Labor Department and the White House for additional remarks Tuesday.

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Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia on Tuesday said the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits shouldn't be extended past July 31, reiterating that it allowed a majority of jobless Americans to earn more not to work. RICHARD LEVINE / Contributor/Getty Images