Ideas for how to put the unemployed back to work

On my commute to the office yesterday I saw a link to a feature being run by The Atlantic called The Great Jobs Debate: Ideas for how to put the unemployed back to work. In their words, they’ve “brought together some of the top minds in business, government, and the world of ideas, each to answer the same question: What is the single best thing Washington can do to jumpstart job creation?”

There are some good ideas and some bad ideas, mostly depending on what your personal ideology is. Personally, I thought these two were great:

Megan McArdle: Create a Special Job Credit for the Long-Term Unemployed

How to get employers to hire people who have already been out of work for too long? Traditional government solutions like job training have an absolutely dismal record. The only government solution to long-term unemployment we’ve ever found was to have World War II, and for various reasons, we’re probably not going to reauthorize that particular program.

One suggestion is to give them direct incentives to choose the long-term unemployed over those who are already in work, or out of work for only a short time. How? We could exempt new hires from both the employee and the employer sides of the payroll tax, one month for every month that they were unemployed.

The result is a direct wage subsidy of more than 10%. But it is a time-limited subsidy, and one carefully targeted to those who need it the most. By the time the tax relief expires, these workers will have been reintegrated into the labor force. This will cost the government something of course–but not nearly as much as supporting them on welfare, disability, or early retirement–or the prison system.

Mike Haynie: Unlock Capital for Small Business

The United States should create a national microlending program positioned to provide ready access to capital to small business. It is widely acknowledged that small business represents the engine of job creation in this country. Small business accounts for approximately 50 percent of all private-sector jobs, and roughly 70 percent of all new jobs created in the past decade.

In today’s environment, banks have much less incentive to extend a traditional small-business loan ($5,000 to $25,000), because the relationship between the transaction costs associated with processing that loan and the return on that investment to the bank often doesn’t make economic sense. It’s all about opportunity cost.

For example, consider that the transaction costs associated with processing a $10,000 loan to a small business and a $5 million loan to a large business are roughly the same. Also recognize that the return on investment to the bank (that is, the interest paid on the loan) increases proportionally with the size of the loan–the larger the loan, the more interest income generated relative to the “cost” of issuing and servicing the loan. Therefore, whether you are a large public bank with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders or a small credit union responsible to its membership, there is an incentive to focus on larger and thus more profitable loans. Banks are in business to make a profit.

Research highlights that most small businesses, especially over the first five years of operation, require only small and incremental infusions of capital to sustain positive growth. A national microlending program positioned to provide capital infusions of $1,000-$20,000 to small business–created as a partnership between government and community-based lenders–would represent an compelling channel for small businesses to access start-up and growth capital.

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