The process has been time-consuming, she said, “and it’s also a mental wear and tear because you’re literally pulled from all angles in a very stressful situation.”

Alexa Tapia, the unemployment insurance campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, said work search requirements “harm more than they help,” especially during the pandemic.

In particular, she said, such requirements perpetuate systemic racism by trapping people of color, especially women, in underpaid work with fewer benefits. And she noted that people of color were more likely to be denied benefits on the basis of such requirements.

With state unemployment offices already overtaxed, she added, work search requirements are “just another barrier being put to claimants, and it can be a very demoralizing barrier.”

In states that have reinstated work search requirements, worker advocates say an especially frustrating obstacle has been a lack of guidance.

Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which works with low-income South Carolinians, said unemployed workers in the state largely wanted to go back to work. But the information on the state’s website about work search requirements is so confusing, she said, that she worries workers won’t understand it.

Before the state reimposed the requirements last month, Ms. Berkowitz sent a marked-up copy of the proposed language to the chief of staff at the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce urging clarifications and changes. One of her biggest concerns was that the language as it stood was at a 12th-grade reading level, while the typical reading level of adult Americans is much lower. She did not hear back. “It was crickets,” she said.

More broadly, employees in South Carolina, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, can be reluctant to take a job that pays less than the one they had before the pandemic, Ms. Berkowitz said.

“It’s not that they are below taking a job that makes a lot less, but their financial needs are high enough that they need to continue to make a certain salary,” she said.

Although work search requirements have become a political issue, their restoration does not fall solely along partisan lines. Florida, for instance, where the Republican governor has repeatedly flouted virus restrictions, had kept the work search waiver in place before announcing recently that it would reinstate the requirement at the end of the month.

But many other states, particularly Republican ones, have rushed to bring their work search requirements back.

That is what Crista San Martin found when they left their job out of health concerns at a dog boarding facility in Cypress, Texas, which reinstated its work search requirement in November.

Mx. San Martin, 27, who uses the pronouns they and them, said there were very few job openings near them in the pet care industry, making finding a position onerous.

“That made it really difficult for me to log any work searches, because there simply weren’t enough jobs that I would actually want to take for my career,” they said. The first job they applied to was at a Panera, “which is not in my field of interest at all.”

Above all, applying to arbitrary jobs felt risky, they said, because there was no way to assess potential employers’ Covid-19 safety protocols. Mx. San Martin has since returned to their old job.

“It’s pretty unfair,” they said. “Going out and just casting a wide net and seeing whether a random business will take you is not safe.”

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