• Around half of all US workers can earn more money collecting unemployment instead of their current jobs.
  • The federal government ramped up unemployment benefits by $600 a week until the end of June, bringing the average weekly total to $978 a week – or $20 more than what many workers earned before the pandemic.
  • Labor experts said the generous benefits are helping keep people home and tamping down the spread of the virus, which is what they were designed to do.
  • But it could complicate efforts by businesses to hire in the short-run.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Nearly half of all American workers are set to earn better pay from unemployment than their current jobs, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus law that Congress approved last month, the federal government is adding $600 in weekly unemployment benefits on top of what states usually pay out. The additional benefits are set to expire at the end of June.

The Labor Department paid out $378 on average each week to laid off workers last year, the paper reported, and the added federal cash to unemployed people would increase the weekly amount to $978.

That sets the unemployment benefit higher than many workers’ paychecks before the coronavirus pandemic. Data from the Labor Department indicated half of all full-time workers earned $957 or less in the first few months of the year.

Labor experts told The Journal the ramped-up benefits are helping achieve a key goal: keeping workers at home to curb the spread of the virus.

“The point is you want people not to work so we can stop this virus and, as quickly as possible, get the economy back on track,” National Employment Law Project analyst Michele Evermore said.

Nearly 26 million people filed for unemployment in the last five weeks, underscoring the severity of the economic hit from the coronavirus. While crafting the massive relief bill last month, Democrats said they were pressing for “unemployment benefits on steroids.”

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Desperation to quickly address the crisis and antiquated state relief systems didn’t give lawmakers enough time to tailor benefits for each state’s average wages, so they settled on providing $600 a week more instead.

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The generous benefits, though, could complicate efforts for business owners to hire in the short-run and the drive from some state governors to reopen their economies in the next few weeks.

Some small business owners recently told Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson that they’re struggling to rehire people as the unemployment pay is temporarily better than many workers’ usual salaries.

“We have had many staff that have said at this point the best thing they can do for their family is to collect unemployment,” said Ian Lieberman, a multi-unit franchisee for Fuzzy’s Taco Shop in Tampa, Florida. “When they explained their reasoning, I said I respected that and that they would be available for rehire.”