The Jobless Stimulus. WSJ Editorial
It's still not too late to redirect $400 billion to business tax cuts.
WSJ, Sep 07, 2009
The recession may be over on Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but on Working Family Avenue it still has a ways to run. That's the lesson of yesterday's August jobs report that showed losses of 216,000, which believe it or not is the slowest monthly decline in a year and caused the White House to praise with the faint damn that the "trajectory is in the right direction." That's the good news.
On the other hand, the jobless rate popped up to 9.7%, the highest rate in 26 years, from 9.4%, reflecting an increase in the size of the labor force. The main concern we see going forward is the slow pace of new job creation to soak up the 7.4 million workers who have lost jobs since 2007.
There are now 26 million Americans who can't find a full-time job. Average weekly hours remained at an abysmally low 33.1—which is putting a strain on family budgets. And the jobless rate including so-called discouraged workers, or those who have stopped looking, leapt to 16.8% from 16.3% in July. Meanwhile, the number of Americans working part-time who want full-time work increased by 278,000 to 9.1 million, which as a share of the workforce is larger than at any time since the recession of 1982. These are the workers that employers will tend to hire first as a recovery unfolds, so it is worrisome that this cohort remains so large.
None of this does much for the credibility of the Obama Administration's stimulus spending plan, which was sold with the promise of a jobless rate this year of "below 8%" if the stimulus were passed. That was off by some three million jobs in a mere seven months. The same economists who fretted in February that $780 billion in stimulus was too small now claim that the $300 billion or so that has been spent has somehow ignited the recovery.
But a tax-cutting stimulus would have provided much more job and economic growth for the buck, and it could even now too. If the Administration really wants to fire up private job creation, how about taking the remaining $400 billion or more and using it to lower business taxes? The unspent stimulus is enough for a two-year down payment on repealing the U.S. corporate income tax, which studies show is a job and wage-increase killer.
Congress could also reconsider its July minimum-wage increase of 70 cents an hour, which almost certainly contributed to the leap in teenage unemployment to 25.5% in August. The rate was 24% in June and 23.8% in July, before the wage hike started to price low-skilled teens looking for jobs out of the workplace. Congress would be wise to suspend the increase until the overall jobless rate falls below 7%.
Of course neither of our proposals is going to happen given the current policy views in Washington, but someone has to speak up for workers who want a job, as opposed to those lucky enough to still have them.
We still believe an economic recovery is under way, and some job growth will certainly follow. But the danger is that the U.S. will recover with only European levels of job creation. The French and Germans have had a hard time bringing down unemployment even during expansions, thanks to the burden of high taxes, regulation and onerous union work rules. The economic agenda now pending on Capitol Hill includes all three of these burdens, so it's no wonder that employers are being supercautious before they add to their payrolls.
The U.S. economy is a remarkably resilient animal, and even deep recessions have always been followed by recoveries, usually strong ones. But businesses aren't going to rehire nearly as many workers amid the current policy uncertainty. The faster Congress defeats cap and trade, union card check and the House health-care bill, the better for job creation