Iowa is one of the states that’s set to reopen on a limited basis starting this Friday. They’re so hellbent on reopening, in fact, they’re pulling people’s benefits to make it happen.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that anyone refusing to return to work due to coronavirus fears would be considered a “voluntary quit,” forfeiting their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Reynolds also encouraged any business with noncompliant workers to “file a report with Iowa Workforce Development.” Essentially the same thing is happening in Texas, too.
Enforcing voluntary quit orders during COVID-19 is one of the more nakedly evil political developments of the pandemic. It directly puts people in harm’s way and shifts blame to workers, not the employers legally required to provide safe working environments.
But incidentally, the voluntary quit orders reveal the mostly conservative “reopen the country” gambit’s true motivations: that states don’t want to pay out social benefits. To Republican lawmakers, there’s no greater sin than paying people not to work, even when a global pandemic makes nearly all working conditions unsafe. And if someone so happens to make more money on unemployment than they did while working—gasp!—it’s not an indictment of low wages, but of a lazy, ungrateful workforce.
Reynolds’ declaration folds seamlessly into the GOP’s hyper-capitalist worldview that profits matter far, far more than people. But it’s not just profits that matter more than the workers who create them—it’s a return to “normalcy” where our overwrought consumerism isn’t restricted in any way. Lawmakers are perfectly willing to let workers fall ill and die if it means people know they can go to the mall or the movies or restaurants. Hell, the president finally used the Defense Protection Act not to secure PPE for overrun hospitals, but to keep meat processing plants open. It’s the legislative manifestation of the astroturfed “reopen the country” protests—we don’t want to go back to work, but you need to so we can feel normal again.
Stripping workers of benefits likely wouldn’t be an issue in any other first world, industrialized nation. It’s also hard to imagine any country whose people would actually put up with this crap. If the United States were actually committed to providing a meaningful social safety net for its workers and small businesses, we might not be in this situation. But it’s not, and the result is genuinely evil political orders that will result in illness and death.