Jobs and Benefits, Short and Long Term

13 Sep

Two separate points, both on problems with Obama’s jobs bill – as it stands in its yet untrimmed, ‘uncompromised’ form.

First, defenders of Obama’s jobs program are touting this report by Macroeconomic Advisors that the bill is predicted to create 2.1 million jobs over the next two years, 1.3 in the first year alone. Possibly more. That’s better than nothing. Or is it? In the short-term, it’s undoubtedly a good thing (making the bad assumption here that the bill as presented is the one that gets passed.) However, there is the question of paying for it. Obama has promised slightly higher taxes on the wealthiest, but he also called, in his speech, for “making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid.” Whether the final bill makes modest or more serious adjustments, Obama is saying he wants to trade lasting cuts to an important entitlement for a middling jobs bill that will only have short-term benefits. As the same Macroeconomic Advisors report points out, since the different bits of the jobs plan will expire by the end of 2012, “GDP and employment effects are expected to be temporary.” So a short-term bump to employment – and Obama’s electoral fortunes – facilitates an attack on a more enduring, long-term benefit. A problem that could be amplified once Republicans get down with their subtractions to the bill. One step forward two steps back?

Second, in previous posts we suggested that a problem with the jobs bill is that it will treat unemployed as a distinct interested group from the employed. More generally our point was that people who have interests in common – unemployed and the employed, low-wage work and higher-wage work, underemployed and those with two jobs – are not addressed or mobilized as if they have shared interests. We were accused in comments of focusing only on ‘labels’ or discourse, rather than actual policy. So it’s worth pointing out that some of the actual policy is more or less in line with our initial worry – dividing up the interests of the working classes.

The usually Obama-boosting Wonkblog observes that there is a potential problem with a work-sharing provision in the jobs bill. This work-sharing system, borrowed from the Germans and already picked up by some states, is a system whereby the state subsidizes an employer’s decision to keep workers on at reduced hours, rather than fire some and keep the rest on. What Wonkblog observes is that this tends to work best before workers have already been fired – ie where we are now – and what’s more, it may have “positive effect on full-time employment but doesn’t help temporary employment, which could make it harder for those who are unemployed to reenter the workplace.” This worry is taken from another paper, by Cahuc and Carillo, who point out that

“But short-time compensation programmes are no panacea. They can induce inefficient reductions in working hours. Moreover, workers in permanent jobs have incentives to support such schemes in recessions in order to protect their jobs. Employers also have incentives to support short-time compensation programmes in countries where stringent job protection induces high firing costs. Therefore, there is a risk attached with using these programmes too intensively. The benefits of insiders can be at the expense of the outsiders whose entry into employment is made even more difficult.” (our underline)

So not only might this produce an inefficient allocation of labor, but it helps protect the jobs of those who have them more than helps those who don’t have them in the first place – a double whammy, since inefficient allocation of labor will also hold down growth, which also suppresses employment. Of course, the effects, given the small size of the proposed program, are likely to be very small or unobservable, at least at first. But this does create a division of interests – the full-time employed, committed to a new program that holds their jobs in place, and which is really unconnected to serious efforts at creating jobs for those who don’t have them. Somewhere down the line, one can imagine one or the other being on the chopping block, or some trade-off needing to be made, and two segments of a group that ought to be on the same side would be put in competition with each other.


One Response to “Jobs and Benefits, Short and Long Term”


  1. Behind Europe’s employment figures « thecurrentmoment - January 6, 2012

    […] to contest the authority of employers and seek better conditions and higher wages. As we have noted before, this fact help explains why jobs programmes as a way of boosting a recession-hit economy are not […]

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