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Archive for November 17th, 2013

President Obama has presided over a terrible jobs market.

Unemployment is more than two-percentage points higher today than the White House claimed it would be if the so-called stimulus was enacted.

Even more worrisome, the employment-population ratio seems to have permanently fallen, which is bad news for economic performance since our output is a function of how much capital and labor is being productively utilized.

So what’s the response from the Obama Administration? Well, they want to further subsidize people for not working.

I’m not joking. Here’s some of what has been reported by the Huffington Post.

The Obama administration on Friday came out strongly in support of extending long-term unemployment insurance past its current expiration date. …”We have always done so when unemployment is this high and would make little sense to fail to do so now when we are still facing the burdens of the worst downturn since the Great Recession,” [Obama economic adviser Gene] Sperling said. “It is high bang for the buck for the economy, reduces poverty and helps workers who lost jobs due to no fault of their own get back on their feet.”

But is it true that providing more unemployment benefits is an approach that “helps workers”?  In their academic writings, both Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have pointed out that you get more unemployment when you subsidize joblessness.

And research by Professor Casey Mulligan also has found a very clear link between government benefits and unemployment. If you’re still not convinced, here’s some more empirical evidence showing that you get more joblessness when you subsidize leisure.

And now we have even more evidence showing that it doesn’t make sense to make leisure more attractive than employment. Four economists conducted some new empirical research to look at how unemployment benefits impact economic performance in the labor market. First they explain the theoretical concerns.

Unemployment in the U.S. rose dramatically during the Great Recession… The policy response involved an unprecedented extension of unemployment benefits with benefit duration rising from the usual 26 weeks to as long as 99 weeks. …The effectiveness of this policy response was questioned by Barro (2010) and Mulligan (2012), among others. Because unemployment benefit extensions represent an implicit tax on market work, they subsidize unemployment and discourage labor supply. …Everything else equal, extending unemployment benefits exerts an upward pressure on the equilibrium wage. This lowers the profits employers receive from filled jobs, leading to a decline in vacancy creation. Lower vacancies imply a lower job finding rate for workers, which leads to an increase in unemployment.

Then they report their findings, including the remarkable result that the bulk of poor employment numbers in recent years are the result of extended unemployment benefits.

Our empirical strategy exploits a policy discontinuity at state borders to identify the effects of unemployment insurance policies on unemployment. …We explicitly control for the effects of other policy changes at the state level (that could be correlated with the expansion of unemployment benefit durations) to ensure that our estimates isolate the effects of unemployment benefit extensions. …We find that unemployment rises dramatically in the border counties belonging to the states that expanded unemployment benefit duration as compared to the counties just across the state border. The quantitative magnitude of this effect is so large that our estimates imply that benefit extensions can quantitatively account for much of the unemployment dynamics following the Great Recession.

Some Keynesians argue that unemployment benefits are nonetheless good for the economy because of the impact on aggregate demand. But even if you believe Keynesian theory, the authors find that unemployment benefits don’t help because of the offsetting foregone income resulting from fewer jobs.

…an increase in unemployment due to benefit extensions is similar in magnitude to the decline of employment. Thus, the total effect on spending is ambiguous as extending benefits increase spending by the unemployed but at the same time decrease spending as fewer people are employed.

So what’s the bottom line? Simply stated, we need some tough love. There needs to be a limit on unemployment benefits so that companies will have more incentive to create jobs and so that unemployed people will have more incentive to get off the couch and find a job.

I’ve made this point during television interviews, but I suspect that many people will find this Michael Ramirez cartoon more compelling and convincing. In any event, it’s more entertaining.

And we definitely can’t overlook this superb Wizard-of-Id parody. It doesn’t focus on unemployment benefits, but it makes a great point about labor supply incentives in a very amusing fashion.

But let’s close on a serious note. Comparing data from the United States and Europe also shows that government policy has a big impact on the labor market. And if you prefer anecdotes, check out this story from Michigan and this example from Ohio.

P.S. At least the President is consistent. He also is pushing another policy that would increase unemployment.

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