Something fascinating happened in the United States over the last few months. As one of the means to curtail the paralysis triggered by Covid-19, the U.S. government introduced fairly generous unemployment benefits, after millions of Americans lost their jobs as companies and local economies went on lockdowns. Those benefits ended up overshooting most U.S. states’ minimum wage levels. But as states began to re-open, some companies struggled to find people to hire. What has happened is this: some people were making more money from unemployment benefits than they could make from working. As expected, people stayed home to cash the cheques instead of going to work to make less!
Now, there are many data points, and using those data points, it seems the U.S. would not extend the generous unemployment benefits. They are exploring other options of capping benefits to 70% of the person’s last job. This is how policy, powered by data, works.
Meadows said the proposal will involve offering enhanced unemployment benefits that would replace a laid-off worker’s wages up to 70%, although he acknowledged challenges some states will face in administering such a complicated benefit. He said he has worked with Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to ensure “antiquated computers” in some state benefit offices don’t stop people from receiving their benefits.
If you examine what is happening here, you see why data should drive policy. Without data, President Trump might have signed out his re-election prospects. Yes, extend the unemployment benefits as many had suggested to January 2021 and have many citizens stay home, to cash the cheques, and possibly tank the economy. But with data, especially from the small businesses which are struggling to hire workers, the government will scale its benefits to stimulate incentives for people to take those jobs they have passed.
Politics or no politics, it favours Trump and his party to see many people back to work. Paying them to stay at work has really no economic or political benefit. Of course, leaders have to be considerate, understanding that some may not just find jobs. That is where the 70% cap makes sense: you will be fine but you would not be fully whole; so, go and look for work.
Now, contrast with Abuja. How many have received from the audio N50 billion small business Covid-19 intervention fund? How many have received from the follow-up fund? Perhaps, the Central Bank of Nigeria could publish the names of all the beneficiaries and tell us what the funds have accomplished.
We need to stop guesswork-policy, and begin to drive policy with data. From YouWin to NPower to the new incarnations, what are we learning, and how are we adjusting implementation protocols? Unless we use data to drive our decision making, we might be causing harm rather than doing good to our economy. Yes, Nigeria needs to invest to create a data-driven government and use data to drive policy.