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Posts Tagged ‘Joblessness’

Remember the “jobless recovery” of the Obama years?

Part of the problem was that President Obama kept extending unemployment benefits, which subsidized joblessness, as even Paul Krugman and Larry Summers had warned.

The good news was that Congress eventually said no in 2014 (actually one of the three best things to happen that year).

After that happened, the labor market improved.

But politicians apparently didn’t learn anything. As part of emergency coronavirus legislation, they turbo-charged unemployment benefits.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial from yesterday has a good summary.

Much of the harm from the coronavirus is unavoidable, but it would be nice if politicians didn’t compound the damage by ignoring the laws of economics. The worst blunder so far on that score is the $600 increase in federal jobless benefits… Why would anyone take a pay cut to go back to work? …Employees say they’ll take the unemployment check for as long as they can make more money by not working. …This does not mean these workers are lazy. Workers are making rational decisions based on the economic incentives the political class has created. …The question now is whether the Trump Administration will learn from its negotiating mistake. Democrats will try to extend the $600 for another few months, and then a few more after that, as they describe anyone who disagrees as heartless.

Tim Kane, in a piece for the Hill, explains why this doesn’t make sense.

The UI system is a case study in perverse incentives in the best of times, but the four-month “fix” in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) makes it far worse. …Existing UI provides a government payment to each worker who is involuntarily laid off, in essence paying people not to work. The amount varies slightly according to state-based formulas. But UI checks are generally set to replace 50 percent of the individual’s wages until they find a new job. …Pandemic UI jacks up the replacement rate with a supplemental $600 per unemployed worker for the next four months. That’s roughly an extra $2,400 each month that will go to you only if you are unemployed. …Now that the CARES Act is the law of the land, any American with an annual salary of $62,000 has no financial incentive to work, certainly not until August. …the federal government is going to pay non-working Americans way more than working Americans.

In a column for Bloomberg, Conor Sen explores the implications.

It’s also important to be mindful of how, once the economy is growing again, a $600 weekly benefit can distort the labor market. That works out to the equivalent of $15 an hour for a 40-hour work week, a level that substantially exceeds the minimum wage in most states. When restaurants are open for business again, they are likely to complain if they can’t hire dishwashers who understand that it’s not worth giving up unemployment benefits. One step to winding down the program might be reducing the benefit over time in response to labor-market conditions and monitoring the impact that’s having on workers accepting jobs.

Sam Hammond, writing for National Review, opines on the potential human cost.

…the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program…will…add an extra $600 per week to the base benefit (equal to half the state’s regular unemployment benefit) for up to four months. …This $600 per week add-on — equivalent to a $15-per-hour full-time income — means that many workers will soon be eligible to receive more in unemployment compensation than they would make on the job. …It should go without saying that no government in history has ever designed an unemployment-insurance program quite like this — one that virtually anyone can qualify for, and with benefits on par with the median weekly earnings of full-time workers. …a worst-case scenario is easy to imagine…once quarantines begin to lift, a fraction of Pandemic UI recipients will choose to stay on “extended benefits”… Temporary unemployment will become structural, and a jobless recovery will drag out for decades.

Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center cites some of the academic literature.

The unintended consequences and moral hazard of UI during normal times and normal recessions are well known. Put briefly, generous UI benefits create an incentive for workers to delay looking for jobs until the expiration of the benefit. In 2010, Harvard University economist Robert Barro estimated that the Great Recession expansions in UI benefits raised the US unemployment rate by about 2.7 percentage points. …In addition, economists Lawrence F. Katz and Bruce D. Meyer observe that workers receiving unemployment benefits were likely to postpone their job searches until their benefits expired. This finding was confirmed by many other studies, including one by economist Alan Krueger,  who wrote in 2008 that “job search increases sharply in the weeks prior to benefit exhaustion.”

And she points out that there is a better approach.

…an old policy proposal that should receive new attention—a proposal that by design encourages people to go back to work as quickly as they can… Personal unemployment insurance savings accounts (PISAs) are designed to maintain a financial incentive to return to work as soon as possible. These accounts are individually owned by workers who, during spells of unemployment, can make orderly withdrawals to partially compensate for the loss to their income but can keep and build the balance during their regular times of employment. …This form of UI is not a mere theoretical proposition. The experience of Chile is worth noting, but other countries such as Austria and Colombia have adopted similar plans.

Making a related point, Congressman Justin Amash points out that it would be less harmful to simply give people money rather than giving them money on the condition that they don’t work.

By the way, a study from the Bank for International Settlements, published well before coronavirus became an issue, notes other negative effects of unemployment benefits.

Many countries provide unemployment insurance (UI) to reduce individuals’ income risk and to moderate fluctuations in the economy. However, to the extent that these policies are successful, they would be expected to reduce precautionary savings and hence bank deposits–households’ main saving instrument. In this paper, we study this reduced incentive to save and uncover a novel distortionary mechanism through which UI policies affect the economy. In particular, we show that, when UI benefits become more generous, bank deposits fall. Since deposits are the main stable funding source for banks, this fall in deposits squeezes bank commercial lending, which in turn reduces corporate investment.

Just another chapter in the government’s book on how to discourage savings.

Let’s close with some real world illustrations of how Washington’s approach is backfiring.

A story from National Public Radio shows how workers respond logically to perverse incentives.

…the extra money can create some awkward situations. Some businesses that want to keep their doors open say it’s hard to do so when employees can make more money by staying home. “We basically have this situation where it would be a logical choice for a lot of people to be unemployed,” said Sky Marietta, who opened a coffee shop along with her husband, Geoff, last year in Harlan, Ky. …The shop had been up and running for only a few months when the coronavirus hit. …Marietta was determined to stay open. …But even though she had customers, Marietta reluctantly decided to close the coffee shop just over a week ago. “The very people we hired have now asked us to be laid off,” Marietta wrote… “Not because they did not like their jobs or because they did not want to work, but because it would cost them literally hundreds of dollars per week to be employed.” …the $10 to $15 an hour they’d make serving coffee is no match for the new jobless benefits.

Maxim Lott also wrote about another tragic example.

An additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits…causing concern that some workers could be in a position to actually make more money by leaving their jobs. . …That angers some essential workers on the front lines on the crisis. “I can tell you as a worker who barely makes over minimum wage, at $12 an hour, the whole thing is complete BS,” Otis Mitchell Jr., who works in West Virginia transporting hospital patients to get medical tests, told Fox News. Mitchell Jr. added that he has unemployed friends who already are getting the extra $600, and that “I prefer to work, but sadly I’d make more staying home.” …generous payments are…scheduled to last for four months, ending July 31.

A report from CNBC also found perverse consequences.

Jamie Black-Lewis felt like she won the lottery after getting two forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. …When Black-Lewis convened a virtual employee meeting to explain her good fortune, she expected jubilation and relief that paychecks would resume in full even though the staff — primarily hourly employees — couldn’t work. She got a different reaction. “It was a firestorm of hatred about the situation,” Black-Lewis said. …The anger came from employees who’d determined they’d make more money by collecting unemployment benefits than their normal paychecks. …“I couldn’t believe it,” she added. “On what planet am I competing with unemployment?”

If you want to see why people are choosing unemployment, here’s a chart from the CNBC story. Using examples from three states, it shows the normal generosity of unemployment benefits on the left and the new approach on the right.

Needless to say, it’s economic malpractice to make unemployment more attractive than jobs paying $20-$30 per hour.

It’s the real-world version of this satirical Wizard-of-Id cartoon.

P.S. Speaking of satire, Nancy Pelosi actually argued that paying people not to work was a form of stimulus.

P.P.S. Here are a couple of anecdotes, one from Ohio and one from Michigan, about the perverse impact of excessive unemployment benefits during the last downturn.

P.P.P.S. If you want more academic literature on the relationship between government benefits and joblessness, click here and here.

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If young people in Europe were a company, I would be telling you to sell the stock.

Why? Well, because politicians want to help them. And, as perfectly illustrated by this Eric Allie cartoon (as well as the cartoon he has at the bottom of this post), government at best unintentionally harms those it tries to help.

To see what I’m talking about, here’s some of what the EU Observer is reporting today.

EU leaders gathering in Brussels on Thursday (27 June) for a two-day summit will again turn to measures aimed at helping young people to get jobs, as unemployment figures soar in southern countries. The summit kicks off at 4.30pm local time with a meeting between leaders, trade unions and employers’ associations, to hear what actions they are taking to boost youth employment. …The European Commission has already drafted a paper on how the EIB could boost its lending powers. Its loans are used mostly by small and medium enterprises, which could hire more young people if they get the money to fund expansion. Under the most ambitious scenario, EIB lending could exceed €100 billion.

How stereotypical. Big business, big labor, and big government are getting together and considering a €100 billion slush fund that will line their pockets.

They want us to believe this will lead to more jobs for young people, but they overlook (and hope we’re unaware of) Bastiat’s warning about the seen and the unseen.

Expanding the EIB will simply divert resources from more productive uses.

So what’s the answer? Here’s what I recommended as part of some speeches earlier this month in Europe.

I began with what should be a common-sense observation that businesses won’t create jobs unless they think new workers will add to the bottom line.

Youth Unemployment 1

I then outlined some of the ways big government undermines incentives to create jobs by making workers more expensive.

Youth Unemployment 2

I also explained that Keynesian spending schemes won’t create jobs.

Youth Unemployment 3

Last but not least, I warned that workers will be less likely to seek jobs if government handouts alter the tradeoff between work and leisure.

Youth Unemployment 4

Regarding this final slide, I shared in my speeches this amazing chart about the anti-work incentives created by the safety net in the United States, as well as some similar startling data from the United Kingdom.

Sadly, none of my audiences included senior European officials. And even if they were in the audience, I doubt they would have learned anything.

After all, why support an agenda of free markets and small government when that would reduce their power and influence?

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Can we finally all agree that Keynesian economics is a flop? The politicians in Washington flushed about $800 billion down the toilet and we got nothing in exchange except for anemic growth and lots of people out of work.

Indeed, we’re getting to the point where the monthly employment reports from the Labor Department must be akin to Chinese water torture for the Obama Administration. Even when the unemployment rate falls, it gives critics an opportunity to recycle the chart below showing how bad the economy is doing compared to what the White House said would happen if the so-called stimulus was enacted.

But for the past few months, the joblessness rate has been rising, making the chart look even worse.

I never watch TV, so I’m not in a position to know for sure, but I haven’t seen any articles indicating that the Romney campaign is using this data in commercials to criticize Obama.

This seems like a missed opportunity.

But since it’s not clear to me that Romney would actually do anything different than Obama (check out this post if that seems like an odd assertion), I don’t focus on the political implications.

Instead, I’m hoping the American people will learn an important long-run lesson. If you want more growth and prosperity, the recipe is smaller government and free markets.

In other words, our economic policy should be more like Hong Kong and Singapore, but Obama has been making us more like France.

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Remember back in 2009, when President Obama and his team told us that we needed to squander $800 billion on a so-called stimulus package.

The crowd in Washington was quite confident that Keynesian spending was going to save the day, even though similar efforts had failed for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s, for Japan in the 1990s, and for Bush in 2008.

Nonetheless, we were assured that Obama’s stimulus was needed to keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent.

Well, that claim turned out to be quite hollow. Not that we needed additional evidence, but the new numbers from the Labor Department re-confirm that the White House prediction was wildly inaccurate. The 8.2 percent unemployment rate is 2.5 percentage points above the Administration’s prediction.

Defenders of the Obama Administration sometimes respond by saying that the downturn was more serious than anyone predicted. That’s a legitimate assertion, so I don’t put too much blame the White House for the initial spike in joblessness.

But I do blame them for the fact that the labor market has remained weak for a lengthy period. This chart, which I just generated this morning on the Minneapolis Fed’s interactive website, shows employment data for all the post-World War II recessions.

The current business cycle is the red line. As you can see, some recessions were deeper in the beginning and some were more mild. But the one thing that is unambiguous is that we’ve never had a jobs recovery as anemic as the one we’re experiencing today.

Job creation has been extraordinarily weak. Indeed, the 8.2 percent unemployment rate actually masks the bad news since it doesn’t capture all the people who have given up and dropped out of the labor force.

By the way, I don’t think the so-called stimulus is the main cause of today’s poor employment data. The vast majority of that money was pissed away in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Today’s weak job market is affected by things such as the threat of higher taxes in 2013 (when the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire), the costly impact of Obamacare, and the harsh regulatory environment. This cartoon shows, in an amusing fashion, the impact of these policies on entrepreneurs and investors.

P.S. Click on this link if you want to compare Obamanomics and Reaganomics. The difference is astounding.

P.P.S. Obama will probably continue to blame “headwinds” for the dismal job numbers, so this cartoon is definitely worth sharing.

P.P.P.S. Since I’m sharing cartoons, I can’t resist recycling this classic about Keynesian stimulus.

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The continuing weakness in the job market, which I wrote about this morning, means that the debate over unemployment benefits will get more heated.

I’ve already noted that even left-wing academics like Paul Krugman and Larry Summers have admitted that you get more unemployment when you subsidize joblessness.

And I’ve cited some good research on the topic from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, as well as other studies by academic economists.

But none of this evidence seems to matter, as I discovered in this debate with a former Obama Labor Department official.

To better understand the points I was making, here are two good anecdotes from Ohio and Michigan.

Last but not least, this cartoon does a very good who of teaching about the economics of unemployment insurance. And if you want to understand the absurdity of the left, this post shows Nancy Pelosi is a train wreck of economic illiteracy.

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The Labor Department just released its monthly employment report and the White House is probably not happy.

There are several key bits of data in the report, such as the unemployment rate, net job creation, and employment-population ratio.

At best, the results are mediocre. The unemployment rate generally gets the most attention, and that was bad news since the joblessness rate jumped to 8.2 percent.

What makes that number particularly painful is that the Obama Administration claimed that the unemployment rate today would be less than 6 percent if the so-called stimulus was adopted. But as you can see from the chart, squandering $800 billion on a Keynesian package hasn’t worked.

While that chart is probably embarrassing to the White House, I think the most revealing numbers come from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank’s interactive website, which allows users to compare employment data and GDP data for different business cycles.

I looked at those numbers a couple of months ago, so I could compare Reaganomics and Obamanomics, and the difference is startling. The Reagan policies of lower tax rates, spending restraint, deregulation, and tight money generated much better results than the statist policies of Obama.

The most recent numbers, shown below, aren’t any better for the Obama Administration.

But I suppose the good news is that the United States is not Europe. Government is even bigger on the other side of the Atlantic and many of those nations are in the middle of a fiscal crisis and the unemployment rate averages 11 percent.

Sort of makes you wonder whether there’s a lesson to be learned. Maybe, just maybe, bigger government means weaker economic performance.

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The new unemployment numbers have been released and the White House must be somewhat happy. The joblessness rate is down to 8.2 percent, which means the number that gets the most publicity continues to move in the right direction.

I’ve been predicting that Obama will win reelection if the unemployment rate falls to 8.0 percent or below, so my prognostication ability will be put to the test if this trend continues.

But let’s set aside the politics and take a dispassionate look at the U.S. job market. How are we doing?

Well, total employment is estimated to be a bit above 142 million.

The good news is that we have about 4.1 million more jobs than we had in December of 2009.

The bad news is that we still have fewer jobs than when Obama took office, and about 4.5 million fewer jobs than we had in November 2007.

Last September, I put together four charts to assess Obama’s performance on jobs.

Let’s update those charts to get a more complete look at the labor market.

First, let’s begin by comparing where we are now to where the White House said we would be if Congress enacted the President’s so-called stimulus. As you can see, the actual joblessness rate is about 2-percentage points higher. That’s not a good performance.

If Republicans want to highlight a number that favors them, they could point out that the unemployment rate began to fall once they took control of the House. It was near its peak, at 9.8 percent, in November of 2010, and now it’s dropped by more than 1.5 percentage points.

Of course, they really shouldn’t brag since a lot of the bad news is a lingering consequence of the statist policies of the Bush Administration.

Nonetheless, I think the economy has reacted positively to the 2010 elections since gridlock makes it harder for politicians of either party to impose new burdens.

Let’s look at another chart that was in my September post. As you can see, the unemployment rate for African Americans is especially dismal.

I’ve already made the point that Obama’s policies are bad news for Black Americans, particularly policies such as higher minimum wage requirements that cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

Another bit of bad news can be found in the data on long-term unemployment. This chart shows the share of the unemployed that have been without a job for at least six months. Very damning.

Part of the problem, as even Democrat economists have admitted, is that Obama’s policy of extended unemployment insurance benefits has been subsidizing joblessness.

Last but not least, we have the chart that should be the most troubling of all. It shows a sustained drop in the labor force.

Economic growth and output are the result of labor and capital being mixed together by entrepreneurs and investors. If there is a permanent reduction in the availability of one of the ingredients, that obviously doesn’t bode well for American prosperity.

And this is why Obama deserves a poor grade. Not because his policies caused the weak job market. Those problems existed before he took office. Instead, he gets a bad grade because he continued the statist policies of his predecessor.

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