Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

January 18, 2014

Simple test for poverty proposals

(Continued)

This is a correlation/causation mistake of staggering size and consequence. In effect, Paul sees that people who take medicine are more likely to die and concludes that we need to take away their medicine. When there are three job seekers for every open position, it’s pretty clear that a lack of jobs, rather than lack of interest in getting jobs, is the core problem for the long-term unemployed.

Some conservatives are beginning to develop more realistic approaches to joblessness and poverty. In the latest issue of the journal National Affairs, Michael Strain, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, lays out a compelling agenda for any Republican politician brave enough to pick it up.

Strain’s article acknowledges there is a jobs emergency. It pulls together almost every job-creating proposal Washington policy makers have thought of — as well as a few they haven’t — and suggests implementing them simultaneously.

Some of Strain’s ideas will thrill conservatives. He calls for policies that would reduce “oppressive licensing requirements” at all levels of government, reform the disability insurance system so it rewards work, facilitate immigration by highly skilled foreigners and expand union-busting right-to-work laws to more states.

He also proposes reforming the unemployment insurance system so it gives workers a cash bonus when they find a job, paying the long-term unemployed to move to regions with tighter labor markets, subsidizing employers to enable them to pay the long-term unemployed less than the minimum wage (the government would make up the difference), and massively investing in infrastructure.

“What if we bought a whole bunch of buses and had them run express from low-income communities that are in exurbs into commercial centers?” he asked me during an interview. “We know mobility is inversely correlated to the degree of sprawl in a city. I think a simple explanation is that if you have people living two hours away from the jobs, that the commute is killing them and their economic potential. If you can cut that two-hour commute down to an hour, all of a sudden they can apply for a lot more jobs.”

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