Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Help the Long-Term Unemployed

The news has been better concerning
A rise in the ranks of the earning,
But many confirm
They've been out longer-term
Without showing signs of returning.

In order to bring employees in,
We need programs to put more trainees in,
To conquer more ills
By developing skills
Than the Fed's quantitatively easin'.

One of the most persistent economic and social problems in the US today is that of the long-term unemployed - those who have been without a job for a year or more.  As one's working experience recedes into the past, it becomes harder to retain skills that were honed by daily practice, and accordingly more difficult to qualify for a new position in one's industry.  Moreover, both data and anecdotal evidence suggest that many in the labor force lack the necessary skills to reach their most productive potential and to fill some of the most urgent vacancies.  The United States, in particular, is a long way from number one in the most basic measures of achievement in math, science and reading, according to PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment).

All this points to the importance of rebuilding the nation's skill set as a means of rebuilding our workforce and employment rate.  Is it possible that concerted action by the public and private sectors could accomplish this goal?  It seems more likely than either fiscal stimulus - politically imposssible in these days of sequestration - or monetary stimulus, which amounts to pushing on a zero-interest-rate string. The Fed, in particular, has been forceful in declaring that it will stick with its quantitative easing programs and zero-interest-rate policy until unemployment comes down to 6.5% (from the current level of 7.7%). However, it's hard to make the case that QE and ZIRP have contributed much of anything to the modest employment growth the US, while their contribution to the rather mystifying stock rally seems undeniable.

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