Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier
Creating incentives for employees to
return to work
Unemployment has hit South Carolina very hard, and it's a good thing that the large temporary federal …
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Creating incentives for employees to return to work
Unemployment has hit South Carolina very hard, and it's a good thing that the large temporary federal boost in unemployment insurance is available to help hundreds of thousands of residents get through a difficult time.
But Congress is debating whether to extend the extra $600-a-week payment beyond its expiring date of July 31, maybe until the end of the year. There are good reasons for thinking that may be too much of a good thing and ultimately bad for the state's economic recovery.
The temporary closure of businesses in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 has shredded the state's economy. An astounding 486,149 South Carolinians applied for unemployment insurance for the first time in the eight weeks from March 15 through May 9, according to the state Department of Employment and Workforce.
Add in the 71,526 who were already unemployed as of mid-March, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that means more than 550,000 residents are out of work. With 2.4 million workers in the state workforce as of mid-March, that means unemployment has jumped from 3% to 23% in just two months.
Unemployment in the Charleston and Greenville areas is about the state average, while the Columbia area's burden approaches 19%. But one coastal area, Horry County, has been particularly hard hit, with unemployment there approaching 40%.
It is going to be hard enough to fill several hundred thousand jobs as the economy gradually restarts. It could be even more difficult if workers feel no economic pressure to return to work.
The maximum unemployment benefit at the moment is $926 a week, equating to about $23.15 an hour, but the median wage in the state before the crisis hit was just over $16 an hour. Half of the workforce earned less.
That means a lot of laid-off workers have higher incomes now than they did when employed. Many of these employees want to return to their jobs as soon as they can. But that extra money could be enough to push some people into staying home when they're already concerned that going back to work is too dangerous without enforceable health and safety standards in place.
The law says you lose your unemployment insurance if you turn down a legitimate job offer, which makes sense. But the last thing the state needs is a crackdown on workers laid off for no fault of their own and on employers reluctant to press too hard for the return of key workers because of legitimate safety concerns.
What the state needs, says Isabel Soto of the American Action Forum, a center-right economic think tank, is to create an incentive that will draw workers back despite the generous unemployment insurance they now enjoy. "The key for South Carolina and other states is creating incentives to go back to work that are competitive with the incentives of the unemployment benefit," she said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is using his emergency powers to authorize a temporary change in the state's unemployment compensation law to give workers an extra incentive to return to the job.
Under the Georgia plan, workers may earn and keep up to $300 a week while still drawing unemployment insurance. The temporary extra income boost is a real incentive to return to work.
The South Carolina Legislature should consider something similar to complement enforceable health standards and a temporary safe harbor from lawsuits for businesses as needed preparations for a strong recovery.
Meanwhile, Congress should think twice before it extends the full extra $600 a week far beyond July 31. Ms. Soto has written that a phased withdrawal of the extra benefit keyed to the pace of the economic recovery would be a better plan. We agree.
The Aiken Standard
Bill allows more voters to use mail-in absentee ballots
South Carolina voters received some good news last week when the State Legislature approved a short-term bill that will let all voters request a mail-in absentee ballot for the upcoming primaries.
A combination of the coronavirus pandemic, which spurred multiple lawsuits asking for expanded absentee voting, and common sense prevailed. State lawmakers approved the state of emergency as a reason for voting absentee, and Gov. Henry McMaster signed it the next day.
Previously, absentee ballots could only be cast by voters who aren't physically able to leave their home, are away from their home county for work or vacation, have to work the entire time polls are open, if they are sick or mourning the loss of a just-deceased relative, or if they are 65 or older.
This decision only applies to the June primaries, but if the pandemic persists, lawmakers could extend it to the November general election.
The June 9 primaries are important locally because there are several contested races. Voters will elect several Aiken County officials, including a sheriff and county council members.
Visit scvotes.org and download the form, print it out and mail in the request.
When filling out the form, voters just need to select "State of Emergency" to receive the absentee ballot.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the primary is June 5, but officials encourage voters to make the request at least one week in advance to ensure there is enough time to get the ballot in the mail.
"We applaud South Carolina for allowing all voters to seek absentee ballots for its primary," said Josh Silver, co-founder and director of RepresentUs. "Other states should take steps to protect voters. This is not a partisan issue."
South Carolina election officials are already seeing an increase in absentee ballot requests. We'll say it again: In this day of wearing masks and practicing social distancing, those who can vote absentee should do so.
Fortunately, that now includes all eligible voters in South Carolina.
And here's one more thing state lawmakers can do: Make this a permanent change. There is no good reason, going forward, that voters shouldn't be able to request absentee ballots.
The Times and Democrat
Memorial Day weekend travel forecast is not released this year
The AAA travel forecast is a fixture of Memorial Day and other holidays. The coronavirus has changed even that.
For the first time in 20 years there will not be a holiday travel forecast, with AAA saying the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19. The forecast - which estimates the number of people traveling during the holiday weekend - will return next year.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continuing to recommend that Americans stay home and avoid nonessential travel, it is inevitable that fewer people than a year ago will be on the road for the holiday weekend officially kicking off the summer travel season.
"Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend - the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. "With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend's travel volume is likely to set a record low."
But AAA is offering information that indicates Americans are slowly returning to normal life despite the coronavirus threat.
AAA.com/Travel reports online bookings have been rising, though modestly, since mid-April, suggesting travelers' confidence is improving. When it is safe to travel, AAA predicts vacationers will have a preference for U.S. destinations, mostly local and regional locations, and the great American road trip.
The expected rebound in domestic vacations aligns with trends AAA anticipated for summer 2020 pre-COVID-19. In a March AAA Travel survey, 90% of the 173 million Americans who had summer vacations on the books planned to take a U.S.-based vacation. AAA travel experts say that's common during a presidential election year, when many travelers hold off on international travel because they want to see how the election will affect the economy or international relations. This year, the phenomenon is amplified by concerns about the pandemic.
"The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Americans are taking that first step toward their next journey from the comfort of their home by researching vacation opportunities and talking with travel agents," Twidale said. "We are seeing that Americans are showing a preference and inspiration to explore all that our country has to offer as soon as it is safe to travel."
AAA expects vacationers will gravitate to road trips and family bookings including air, car, hotel and activities to destinations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
In South Carolina and states where tourism plays such a vital role in the economy, signs that people will return to traveling and focus on domestic venues are welcome.
And unlike Memorial Day 2009, when travel near the end of the Great Recession was at its lowest, the hope is the economy will rebound quickly after being shut down intentionally. It can't happen soon enough.
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