Friday, September 9, 2011

Thoughts on the new stimulus, er, jobs plan

Most press attention on the $447 billion package has focused on four major components: a one year cut in the FICA tax for workers ($175b), a one year FICA cut for employers accompanied by additional incentives for those with growing payrolls ($70b), another extension of unemployment benefits along with a few new programs for the unemployed ($62b), and a package of "infrastructure" projects ($140b) that includes funds to rehire teachers, firemen and policemen for one year.  A few reactions, based on economic research:
1) There is a large theoretical and empirical literature that shows that temporary changes in the tax code have very little effect on economic activity.  Households will save most of the tax savings.  In sectors of the economy where jobs do not last more than a year, the tax cut may provide some boost in hiring but in sectors where jobs are expected to last longer, the tax cut pales against the likely future rising cost of health insurance.
2) Economic research also shows that extending the duration of unemployment benefits is highly correlated with unemployed people staying out of work longer.  In my ideal world, recipients would have to start government-supported training programs after six months or more of benefits; paying people not to work creates an obvious disincentive and does not address the shortages of labor in many technical and health-related occupations.
3) Although this was not publicized by the media, there are some original ideas on how to help the unemployed which, if scaled properly, might actually help.  These include tax credits for hiring the long-term unemployed or unemployed veterans, prorated unemployment benefits for those on reduced hours (which would encourage work-sharing over layoffs), and wage insurance to provide a buffer for the unemployed who find new jobs at vastly lower salaries compared to their previous jobs. 
4) State and local governments have already gone through wrenching decisions to pare down education and other government functions as Obama's original stimulus bill has wound down.  The Obama plan would allow these governments to bring back some employees for one more year, but then they would still have to be laid off again unless the stimulus, oops sorry, jobs bill were to become permanent.  Recent research on the 2009 stimulus package showed that giving money to cities and states does not always translate into job creation; it might mean less borrowing or larger payments to pension funds. 
Full details on the President's proposals can be found here.

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