The horsepower of America’s economy is a hot topic right now.

Critics of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts insist the generous benefits to Americans who lost jobs in the pandemic, or feared contracting the virus if they returned to their workplaces, are now causing a labor shortage. The policies “pay people not to work,” said Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate’s Republican minority.

Skeptics of the $300 weekly federal checks to the jobless also see those payouts, and the $1.9-trillion overall pandemic relief package, as a match lighting an inflation fire. Employers say they have jobs available but cannot find anyone to fill them. Thus, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has joined other Republican-led states in turning away federal jobless relief funds, starting June 19.

But supporters of President Joe Biden’s response to the economic catastrophe he inherited say his efforts have revived and sustained families and small businesses trying to start over after 15 rocky months. The turnaround is real.

In Indiana, the unemployment rate in April 2020 stood at 16.9%. This April, the jobless rate among Hoosiers was 3.9%. Nationwide, the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell to 440,000 last week, the lowest since the pandemic began. The national jobless rate in April 2020 hit 14.8%, the highest since 1948, but stood at 6.1% this April.

As for employers being unable to find workers, such complaints existed long before the pandemic. Previously, shortages of workers were attributed to a lack of “soft skills” — like showing up on time, or passing a drug test — or technical skills. Today, the low wages of many newly open jobs, the health risks of working around unvaccinated coworkers, and the inability of many people to find or afford child care are influencing the number of Americans returning to the labor force.

Many economists also contend inflation is a natural byproduct of such a dramatic recovery, especially after production of materials for now-high-demand goods had been idled for so long. Inflation should level off through the bedrock economic principle of supply and demand, those economists say. Unrelated causes also triggered some products’ prices to climb. Gasoline prices surged after a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, for example.

The arguments over which political side is right will go on ad nauseum.

In the meantime, the most effective tactic to restore American jobs and workplaces, and to help the country vault past the crippling effects of the pandemic, is the COVID-19 vaccine.

The presence of a vaccinated population has given restaurants and shops the confidence that they can safely reopen more fully. Vaccinated workers significantly reduce the risk of virus spreading through a staff, causing the disruptions that have plagued businesses since March 2020.

The latest weekly “Return to Normal” survey by Morning Consult, a market data research firm, showed “the upward shift among vaccinated Americans drove the overall level of consumer comfort to a record high of 49%.” Forty-five percent of vaccinated adults now feel comfortable with a variety of leisure activities, fueling those industries, up 6 percentage points from last week. And, the percentage of vaccinated Americans comfortable enough to dine in restaurants or shop inside stores rose 11 and 9 points, respectively.

Other activities more appealing this week to vaccinated Americans are flying on an airliner, taking a cruise or watching a movie in a theater, a benefit to those hard-hit industries.

COVID-19 vaccinations are safe, free and easy to get. Each new recipient bolsters the economic recovery.

Any debate over policies should begin with a question for each participant: Are you fully vaccinated yet?

The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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