All Commentary
Tuesday, May 11, 2021 Leer en Español

Bernie Sanders Weighs in on the Growing Labor Crisis. Here’s the Flaw in His Reasoning.

What we’re witnessing isn’t remotely close to “the way the market is supposed to work.”

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore - Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0 (

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics released their April jobs report on Friday, and the results weren’t pretty. While many experts had predicted that close to a million jobs had been added in the month, the actual number was 266,000.

So why did the economy do so much worse than expected? That is the subject of fierce debate in Washington this week. Republicans, for their part, are arguing that generous unemployment benefits have given people an incentive not to work.

“Almost every employer I spoke with specifically mentioned the extra-generous jobless benefits as a key force holding back our recovery,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last night.

McConnell has a point. With current unemployment benefits, many people are getting $300 per week just to stay home, so it’s no surprise that businesses are struggling to find workers.

But Senate Democrats are pushing back.

“If [businesses] are having a very difficult time attracting labor, let them pay the workers a decent wage,” said Senator Bernie Sanders. “I don’t think anyone’s getting rich on a $300-a-week supplemental, and I think, ultimately, the way the market is supposed to work is if I want you to work for me, I’ve got to pay you a wage that attracts you. Let’s try doing that.”

Sanders is not alone in making this argument. Across the country, progressives are pointing out that market forces are pushing wages higher, and if businesses want to attract workers they’ll need to pay the market rate.

But this is some seriously flawed reasoning. What we’re witnessing isn’t remotely close to “the way the market is supposed to work.” This is the blatant result of government intervention. Wages aren’t being pushed up by supply and demand. They’re being pushed up because the government is subsidizing unemployment.

All that to say, this whole jobs fiasco is yet another reminder that incentives matter.

Like this story? Click here to sign up for the FEE Daily and get free-market news and analysis like this in your inbox every weekday.

  • Patrick Carroll is the Managing Editor at the Foundation for Economic Education.