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Is A Moving Subsidy A Good Idea?

[ 145 ] August 8, 2013 |

Like Erik’s, my initial reaction to Dylan’s Matthews’s assertion that conservative think tanks are where people who really care about mass unemployment can be found was to be as incredulous as Matthews’s post is credulous.  Still, it’s true that not all of these ideas are as obviously bad as offering more subsidies to employers so they can further exploit labor.  One idea (hire more people directly) is a perfectly good one even if it’s being nominally favored by the auteur of Dow 36,000; the problem is just that it’s an AEI proposal in the same sense that the ACA was a “Heritage Foundation proposal”. That is, there’s less than no chance that any conservative think tanker or national public official would support it if it had any chance of being enacted.

Another idea that seems potentially reasonable, and has generated an interesting discussion in threads: “Offering relocation vouchers to the long-term unemployed in high-unemployment areas.” I guess I can theoretically imagine a program sufficiently robust — say, full moving expenses and enough for three month’s rent — that might be a net benefit. But for a variety of reasons I’m dubious about the idea and don’t find it surprising coming from the AEI when you step back a little:

  • Even if we assume (implausibly) that even a Congress under Democratic control — let alone the one we have now — could pass a voucher worth enough to make moving practical for a non-trivial group of people, it’s worth noting first of all that a month’s rent isn’t all you need to rent housing.  Especially in a tight rental market — and most boom areas by definition are likely to be tight rental markets — renters generally have to pass credit checks that the long-term unemployed are very unlikely to pass even if they have jobs at their new location.  And those subsidized movers who do qualify for decent housing are driving up prices for current residents.
  • There are often numerous practical reasons why moving is difficult even for people who could afford it.  Working-class parents — especially single parents — often have to rely on networks of family and friends to help care for their children, especially given the unusual and unpredictable hours many employers demand.  People may also have to care for relatives and friends. Labor mobility as a solution ignores a lot of practical problems.
  • And these problems exist even if the voucher was very generous.  If we assume more realistically that a voucher would defray only part of the moving expenses for any cross-regional move, it would almost certainly just act as an inefficient subsidy for people who were going to move in response to economic incentives anyway.  It’s hard to imagine this being the best use of scarce resources.
  • There’s also the problem that what appears to be an economically robust area now may not be even in the near future.  I happen to be reading George Packer’s The Unwinding.  My far from original take on the book is that there’s not much in the way of big picture analysis and that as what is (chronological fracturing and shuffling aside) a collection of essays the quality is uneven.  But the best parts of the book are first-rate reporting, and the strongest and most essential is a report on the boom and bust in Tampa.  Huge numbers of people flocked to metro Tampa for the promise of employment and cheap but rising real estate values in what many Americans (unlike me) consider to be ideal weather.   But, of course, the apparent prosperity was the product of a real estate bubble.  When the bubble burst, many people who had left behind their social networks found themselves with suddenly worthless houses in near-vacant subdivisions with no amenities far from any remaining employment.  The fact that relocation vouchers would exacerbate such bubbles should also give us pause.  Sun Belt booms and busts should also remind us that relocation in itself is not insulation from economic catastrophe.

Overall, then, I don’t find the advocacy of housing vouchers at all surprising coming from an AEI guy; it’s very much consistent with the narrative than mass unemployment is primarily an individual responsibility.  Fundamentally, it’s a means of evading the problem rather than addressing it even if we assume that the proposals are being made in good faith.


Comments (145)

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  1. CaptBackslap says:

    Wait, there are people who think Tampa has ideal weather? My dad lived there, so I’ve spent enough time there to say that the summers are like living in a sauna full of unwashed jockey shorts.

    Decent place in the 90s otherwise, though.

  2. I don’t really think this is that complicated: a voucher for people who were able to get a job and willing to relocate for it but simply couldn’t afford the cost of moving would be a great policy that could help plenty of people at the margins. It just won’t do anything to stimulate aggregate demand, and therefore is something to do as a bonus, not as a foundational part of any sort of employment policy.

    • rea says:

      Move your electronics plant to Hellhole, Texas, where we have low taxes and no pesky environmental regulations! Don’t worry about finding the skilled workers you need–the federal government will round them up and subsidize sending them here! And if they don’t want to come, they’ll lose their benefits!

      • Aimai says:

        This, exactly. You have to establish residency in a good state to get access to unemployment, or health care, or section 8 housing, or what-have-you. What if you take the 1000 dollars, move away for the job, and the job gets cancelled?

        • Dana Houle says:

          Also, it’s a fantasyland that people could move to a job if they only had $1,000, as if that would come close to covering relocation costs. Also, how many people would move there already having a job? If you move somewhere because you think there are excess jobs there, you need money to cover your daily expenses (which considering you’ll be living in some kind of temporary arrangement would probably be higher than the cost of staying home).

          Anyway, this is bullshit for a ton of reasons. There’s the philosophical contradiction that supposedly conservatives value community and rootedness, whereas this bullshit just makes everyone a potential gastarbeiter. But beyond that, one has to be a credulous fool to think that the biggest economic problem keeping people in a labor market without jobs is they don’t have the money to cover relocation expenses. If people who want to leave for a better job market aren’t leaving it’s mostly likely that they’re stuck with an underwater mortgage. And AEI won’t advocate anything that provides real relief on that front.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        And if they don’t want to come, they’ll lose their benefits!

        Uh, yeah, could we maybe discuss something that anyone is actually proposing?

        You know, I would totally oppose a single-payer health care system if it required Chinese women to have tubal litigations. I’m not sure how useful this observation is to a discussion about the merits of single-payer health care.

        • rea says:

          JFL, that was pretty implicit in the “conserative economist” proposal we were discussing earlier. After all, if you won’t take an available job, you can’t get unemployment.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            But we’re not talking about “the conservative’s proposal,” are we?

            Fine, the conservative’s proposal, including the “implicit” (I’ll be generous and use that term) part, sucks.

            After all, if you won’t take an available job, you can’t get unemployment.

            Have you ever heard of an unemployment system that includes jobs two states away as “available?”

            Let me come right out and say that I would totally oppose adding that definition of “available” to the UI laws, or to any relocation voucher program.

            • Aimai says:

              Ok, so then we aren’t discussing any particular, real world proposal we are discussing an unwritten, unspoken, proposal that is in Joe’s head that can only be understood as perfect and avoiding all pitfalls normally attendant on legislation? got it.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                No, we aren’t discussing any real world proposal.

                We started off talking about a one-line statement in a column, and then swtiched to talking about moving vouchers as a concept.

                Glad I could catch you up.

                • brewmn says:

                  You’re completely wrong on this issue, and I can’t for the life of me understand why you are investing yourself so deeply in this crappy proposal.

                  But even giving your arguments the most generous reading possible, you haven’t shown anything but that, theoretically, in a world where Democrats are all to the left of Obama, and Republicans don’t exist, a relocation voucher program would have a slight benefit to a small number of unemployed job seekers.

                  Your defense of this idea is completely out of proportion to even your assertion of its benefits. You’re in a hole here; time to stop digging.

    • L2P says:

      Well, anything that gives money to people that have to spend it will help aggregate demand. Not that this is a good way of doing it.

      • Well, assuming that someone is getting hired for the job either way, this doesn’t seem like much of a boon to labor demand, really.

        • Aimai says:

          We’d be better off giving everyone below a certain income the 1000 dollars to spend as they see fit than limiting it to moving costs. That benefits movers but its not a big part of creating aggregate demand in the economy.

          • As a matter of short term stimulus, sure. As a long term benefit, I don’t really see any downside to “relocation assistance” or whatever you want to call it. Hell, it could feasibly be a nice little tool for upward mobility in the long run.

            • Aimai says:

              But under what circumstances would a government program be better than insisting that all new jobs come with a 1000 dollar signing bonus, or something? I get that there could be jobs that someone might get offered that were far away from where they are–although as I argued in the thread below this one that is quite unlikely at the low end of the SES scale for jobs–but I don’t see how the government administers such a program without showing favoritism to one kind of person over the other.

              Imagine there’s a job in Iowa at a library. There are tons of people in Iowa who could do that job but the job gets offered, via the internet, to a guy in Alaska and he can’t get to the job without some money. Why should the government subsidize “guy from Alaska” in order to fill the Iowa job? And if the person is local they don’t need the subsidy so much as they need a miniumum wage that makes the job worth their while so they can pay off their local debts and their local rent.

              • “But under what circumstances would a government program be better than insisting that all new jobs come with a 1000 dollar signing bonus, or something?”

                I guess they wouldn’t be, but I’m not really sure how this would be written in practice. I mean, you aren’t going to give a 17 year old a $1,000 signing bonus for taking a job as a pizza delivery guy.

                • Aimai says:

                  No, but you could work on paying him a minimum wage that added up to a full time wage for full time work. I don’t understand the function of the federal moving signing bonus. I think, and I argued in the thread below, that it was a terrible idea. I’m not opposed to it because I think poor people don’t need a 1000 dollars, I’m opposed to it because, like all voucher plans, it usually ends up screwing someone somewhere down the line.

                • Well then don’t call it a voucher. I’m just saying that as a general outline for a program you shouldn’t support the idea of the government helping people who want to move for work but can’t front the costs thereof. I would think the biggest beneficiaries of this sort of thing would be working class people who might be able to find a higher salary/advancement into the middle class somewhere else.

    • Agreed on the bonus vs. foundation thing.

      However, most of the research on relocation assistance – Bjorklund 1986, Cook et al. in 1994, Corson and Haimson in 1996, etc. – show really weak if any positive effects on employment and income.

      • Yeah, I don’t see how you would really think it would boost employment in the aggregate. The better way to think of it would be as a form of government social assistance to help out people who couldn’t afford to relocate for work if they wanted to, not as an employment boosting policy.

    • DrDick says:

      In addition to the problems Scott mentions, there is the problem of actually getting a job once you move. Partly this is a problem of knowing where to look and how to get around in a strange town. It is also connected to the lack of a social support network for references and other necessary assistance.

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Moving expenses are a pretty common benefit for most professional jobs outside the US. I got my plane ticket and visa to Ghana paid for by the university and my first year they paid for my residence permit. When my father got a job at University of Queensland they gave him a very substantial moving allowance.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        Did you actually come back, or is this a spot-on Otto parody?

      • Bill Murray says:

        Inside the US to. Almost all the graduates of my engineering department either get a bonus they can on moving expenses or their moving expenses paid

        • Cody says:

          Yes, this is very true inside the U.S. Most well-paying white collar jobs give moving packages, but those aren’t the people programs are aimed at helping.

          It’s more for people who are in the lower class or maybe the bottom of the middle class. If you have a $60,000 a year job, the relocation expenses aren’t that big of a deal to the company paying you.

  3. L2P says:

    I still can’t figure out how the program would work. Unless there was yards of red tape wound around this thing, how would you stop it from just being a subsidized moving for anybody who wanted to move?

    The EITC is problematic enough. It causes enormous headaches for the IRS to administer, and at least there somebody has to prove there’s a kid involved (usually, at least). How do we prove somebody is moving for a job? How do we figure our it’s a real job, and not just your uncle Ed making something up so you can set up your ski cabin in Taos? Who’s going to administer this clusterfuck of a program?

    And really, how many people DON’T move because they have a new job? I can’t think of more than a half-dozen adults that moved just for the hell of it. This is, in effect, a subsidy of moving around. That’s a terrible idea; we need jobs where people are, not another incentive for people to leave Pittsburgh.

    • manual says:

      And that last point is important.

      Pittsburgh, unlike Detroit, somewhat sucessfully acclimated to the new economy. Lots of people left Pittsburgh, but our national policy was not lets move everyone out of Pittsburgh and burn it to ruins. It was to rebuild the city and prosper. In Dylan Matthews and Ygelesias’ world, we just give everyone a voucher and tell them to leave Pittsburgh in the late 70s with a plane ticket for Arizona (the real estate boom worked out great, right?).

      • This seems like a couple of very different things, really. You shouldn’t craft a national policy that seeks to push everyone out of some places and into others where there are jobs (this clearly wouldn’t work), but there’s no reason to say “fuck you” to people who DO want to move for a job, or for the prospect of a job, even, but don’t have the available cash for the upfront cost of moving.

        • Aimai says:

          But why would this cash come from the federal government–why should Massachuesetts pay tax money to help people move from Mass to Texas when we could use the money better here? If the jobs in Texas are too low paying to pay for the workers they want I just don’t see why everyone else here should pay because Texas is a low wage/high turnover state?

    • Aimai says:

      I learned this year that there is a lively trade in social security numbers for children with various relatives “stealing” them to try to use them to get the EITC child credit on their taxes. I don’t know if this is apocryphal or not but certainly a lot of low income families seem to have this issue, along with ID theft surrounding their own credit, credit cards opened up in their infant child’s name, and etc….

      • L2P says:

        The EITC only really gives you a credit for the first two kids. There’s lots of fraud where parents both claim head of household and each claim 2 kids so that they can double the EITC. Uncles claim “extra” nieces as head of household. I don’t know if it’s “common,” but the Fresno tax center processes thousands of these sorts of claims every year.

    • Couldn’t the IRS just figure it out by having a form sent in from the employer? You generally have to fill out tax forms when you start a new job anyway.

      • L2P says:

        OK, that’s the START of the regulatory process. You’ve filled out the W-4. Does that mean you have a job? No. It means you filled out a W-4. I can fill a dozen of them out right now.

        Does the IRS also require a W-2 from the employer? OK, that’s the MIDDLE of the regulatory process. Is it ANY job? Minimum/maximum pay requirements? Is everybody eligible?

        Does the subsidy just give these people money? Do you have an HSA-type reporting requirement? How does this interact with private subsidies?

        Who audits this? The IRS? OK, you now have a hundred thousand new audits of low and middle income people and a few thousand fewer audits of the rich and corporations. Not helping income equality at all here.

        The EITC is pretty simple – you have a kid, the kid lives with you, you report $x of income, VIOLA! EITC is yours! This is a much more complicated program.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Unless there was yards of red tape wound around this thing, how would you stop it from just being a subsidized moving for anybody who wanted to move?

      Offer it through the UI program.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        It’d be a start, but then the lawyer who was out of work long enough to collect UI, but not long enough to have to dip into their savings, would be eligible.

        Means-testing might be better, either based on your pre-unemployment salary, or the salary of your new job.

  4. shah8 says:

    The purpose of these proposals is to define the Overton windows such that the people who are jobless are seen as unresponsive to anything that might better their own prospects.

  5. Chris Mealy says:

    It’s bonkers, but I think lowering the costs of moving would be nice. There’s a 1.5% to 1.78% tax on selling a house in Washington State. The average house is $250,000 (a LOT more in Seattle), so that’s about $4,000. Not encouraging everybody to own a home would be good too.

    • Aimai says:

      I don’t see how anyone can lower the costs of moving when buying and selling houses are involved. People are suffering job lock and location lock because they have sunk costs in terms of their homes. If you aren’t a home owner you don’t have this worry. But no government program really mitigates, or can mitigate, the cost to the individual of a crashed housing market and an underwater mortgage. The government already gives (IIRC) a break to people who are rolling one house over to the next house within a year or so of selling. This is a way of encouraging people to buy and resettle to maintain a tax break.

    • GFW says:

      Well yeah, but the lack of an income tax is pretty good for anyone with enough income to afford a house here. Over any time frame where ownership makes sense, you’d save more relative to pretty much any state’s income tax than the real estate tax will cost.

      • Aimai says:

        Well, I kind of don’t think states should be able to refuse to have an income tax, especially when it means that the rest of the states end up subsidizing them more heavily.

        • Malaclypse says:

          Except Washington is not subsidized by the feds, nor is it a low-tax state. They just get a much larger share of their budget from corporations than most other states.

        • GFW says:

          I don’t disagree with you. I was disagreeing with Chris M’s premises. Washington’s tax structure is rather regressive, particularly because of the lack of an income tax. But that’s more to the benefit of anyone who can afford a home (particularly around Seattle) and more to the detriment of people who can’t.

        • mpowell says:

          Higher tax states are not net contributors because of their higher taxes but in spite of it. Remember, state taxes are normally deductible. So higher tax states will contribute a smaller share of pre-tax income to federal taxes. Higher tax states end up being net federal contributors for a variety of factors, probably one is that they are better run because they tax more and spend more on infrastructure. But if you gave the average low tax red state legislature more revenue, I doubt they would actually spend it very well.

    • mpowell says:

      Having a sales tax on a house is insane. Washington state should stop having an insane tax policy. The feds should not accomodate their insanity. You want to raise more money from property? Raise the annual property tax. Nobody should be explicitly penalized by the gov for moving.

  6. tt says:

    I agree with most of this but resources aren’t actually scarce. We’re probably still in broken windows territory where hiring people to dig ditches and fill them again would be economically beneficial. This proposal won’t happen because Republicans don’t actually support it. But if it were offered, you should take it, because spending is spending.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I mean politically scarce. Any Congress that could pass a subsidy big enough to be worth doing could almost certainly do something better.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        A program that spent $150,000 a year to fund 100 vouchers and one clerk’s salary would be “worth doing.”

        Why would that be an unwise use of resources?

        • Aimai says:

          Obamaphones. Because the knock on effect of creating, at huge political cost, a tiny program that only benefitted 100 people is just bizarrely worthless. Yes. Even negative. The legend of liberals giving moochers money to leave their states would far outstrip any individual person who could have used the money–and the rage of the greater populace who thinks there’s a benefit out there that was denied them is also probably quite signficant.

          If you really thought it was going to be millions of dollars, on the scale of the opening of the west or the subsidies that states routinely offer to businesses to stay put and “create” 100’s of jobs that would be one argument. But arguing that it would be worth it to burn political capital and create a hard to administer, unadvertised, program that amounts to not much more than an walking around money for a select, tiny, few is just morally indefensible. If its just 150,000 a year helping a mere 150 people its not a fair use of resources. A program that benefits only 150 people out of the millions who need help is absurd and from the point of view of other marginal families who don’t qualify for this assitance (because they aren’t moving out of state, because the subsidy doesn’t cover their real needs, because it doesn’t apply to them) its almost immoral.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            You’re assuming that a program that turns unemployed people into employed people would be a political loser.

            I couldn’t disagree more. “Welfare-to-work” programs of all sorts are political winners, and make the public more supportive of the social welfare system as a whole.

            And the small program was not my proposal, but an answer to Scott’s point. Of course I wouldn’t support capping the number of people who could choose to take advantage of the program.

            • Royko says:

              Inner city types are going to be bused in to your town to steal jobs, all on the government’s dime, all thanks to the Democrat Party!

              I’m guessing that’s the avenue Fox would take. Maybe a Carpetbagging reference.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            The argument “It’s almost immoral” to help some people instead of no people is well beyond almost morally obtuse.

            • Aimai says:

              No, its actually a component part of writing just and equitable legislation that you carefully consider whether you can equitably distribute scarce resources and whether you can write it in such a way that you don’t have unintended negative consequences.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                Helping nobody unless you help everybody is part of a writing just and equitable legislation.

                Of course, there is no program that helps everybody, so you, being so principled, oppose every existing and theoretical social welfare program.

                I’m pretty sure this is Jen-Bob name-jacking Aimai.

                • Aimai says:

                  I didn’t say you should help nobody unless you can help everybody. I said that you have to be careful when writing legislation to write it in a just and equitable way that does not lead to unintended consequences.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  No, Jen Bob, you didn’t.

                  You have tells. This is one of them.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Also, moving some people out of a labor market that doesn’t have enough jobs for everyone helps those who remain in the labor market by increasing demand for each remaining worker.

            This was one of the principles behind the adoption of Social Security during the Depression.

            • Aimai says:

              I just don’t believe in the existence, at this time, of a labor market that has sufficient jobs that we ought to preferentially enable guy X from state X to come in and take it from guy Y in state Y who hasn’t taken it because it either doesn’t exist or is too low paid or too abusive.

              Under conditions of boom and mass jobs we would see a pull factor and companies would actually go get the workers they need. Thats what illegal immigration is all about–companies are refusing to pay good wages for the workers they could have, but they are enabling and pulling illegal migrants into their regions by offering them jobs that local people won’t take or can’t risk taking. That’s what the H1B jobs are all about. There are plenty of educated people, or people who could be educated, to take those jobs but companies are pretending they don’t have the workers and pulling them in from abroad.

              I just don’t understand why you would insist on wasting political capital enabling companies to fuck over their local work force–all local work forces are suffering in this economy–to pay for some guy from some other state to come in on the bus and take the job. I would ABSOLUTELY prefer that a 1000 dollars be spent on the local economy, in the local economy, building jobs where people are.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                and take it from guy Y in state Y who hasn’t taken it because it either doesn’t exist or is too low paid or too abusive.

                How can you take something from a guy who hasn’t taken it?

                Whatever, Jen Bob.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                all local work forces are suffering in this economy

                Aimai doesn’t write things this stupid.

                • Aimai says:

                  I feel like I’m talking in Klingon, or something. Nothing I have said is at all strange or illogical or JenBob like. I’m sorry if I disagree on a point of policy with you, Joe, but its perfectly possible for two people of good will to disagree about whether a particular policy is useful, meaningful, or workable without accusing each other of acting in bad faith. I have disagreed with you on this and given my reasons. I’m sorry if its hard for you to grasp that I don’t agree that moving money is a bigger issue than raising the minimum wage across the country.

              • “I just don’t believe in the existence, at this time, of a labor market that has sufficient jobs that we ought to preferentially enable guy X from state X to come in and take it from guy Y in state Y who hasn’t taken it because it either doesn’t exist or is too low paid or too abusive. ”

                This seems unlikely to be a problem, given that these sorts of jobs aren’t likely to be interested in going through the hassle of looking for workers many states away. And it wouldn’t give the out of state worker preferential treatment over an in state worker anyway.

                • Aimai says:

                  But this is what Joe is arguing–that its lack of moving money that prevents people from moving to South and North Dakota to get the good jobs there. He explicitly began with the idea that people were going to be getting jobs in states where they didn’t have contacts and needed help with money moving. Jobs, in other words, that weren’t paying signing bonuses and were too low level to pay for moving costs.

                  In state jobs where people are broke are a different matter but I don’t think its generally the case that there are a lot of low paying jobs for low skilled workers that are available in one part of the state and not in another where people can also afford to pick up and move. The people living in the ghetto and taking public transport out to fast food jobs in the suburbs need great transportation, support for autos and cheap housing. Moving money is not dispositive for the problems people are really facing.

                  I get that some people are going to need moving money and not have it–people have a terrible time coming up with first and last month’s rent, people have bad credit–there are a lot of problems that people have moving when they do have a job. But 1000 dollars won’t cut it in most cases. And no one has indicated how this would work out in practice: who would be eligible? What would be the form of means testing? Would families be eligible for more money than single people?

                  Money is a scarce resource–not fantasy money of course, for a fantasy population but real money and real legislative will. This is a lot more than walking around money. I don’t see a clear path to freeing it up and I don’t see that it would make any difference to overall employment at this time–I don’t see a raft of jobs that are living wage jobs going unfilled. If corporations want to fill those jobs they can fill them locally, no one needs to move. If they don’t want to fill those jobs no one is going to have a job in hand to prove they need the 1000 dollars.

            • Aimai says:

              “That was one of the principles behind the adoption of social security during hte depression.” Uh…ok. But then you would be better off arguing–and I would agree–that what we should be doing is lowering the age of retirement, starting social security and medicare earlier, and not trying to people move in order to shrink the local workforce to something small enough that the market gets tight enough to raise wages. And that is an excellent argument for doing all those things. In fact, I think Atrios has argued that this is exactly what we should do. So rather than a one time bonus sending a negligible number of individuals (not even entire families) out of state (because unless they are going pretty far you aren’t going to have any change in the overall labor force participation in the sending region) I think we should be working to lower retirement, lower the age of medicare eligibility, raise social security pay outs and do what we can to shrink labor force particiaption that way and free up jobs for younger people.

          • Pseudonym says:

            Plus look at what the Obamaphone’s autocorrect does to Aimai’s spelling. Thanks, Obama!

            • joe from Lowell says:

              That isn’t Aimai.

              Jen Bob is name jacking.

              • Malaclypse says:

                Jennie is not clever enough to link to Aimai’s blog, nor can JenBob disagree with you using nuance. This is Aimai.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Aimai would not argue right-wing talking points like “Irish immigrants didn’t have this social program, so why should poor people have it today?” or “Lots of people move without government assistance,” or “Unemployed people should tap their social networks for money instead of looking to the government.”

                  Nor use terms like “government bureaucrats” or – my favorite today – “hysterical.”

                  We’ve already had one troll link to someone else’s blog as a cover, remember?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Quiet all of a sudden, isn’t it?

                • Pseudonym says:

                  There aren’t enough jobs so relocation to imaginary jobs is completely besides the point. In the days when there were enough jobs people usually could tap their networks for enough money to get to them–that’s the entire story of Irish immigration in this country.

                  jfL, we all get that you think there are enough jobs somewhere. Aimai doesn’t, which is why she doesn’t like this idea. Fucking logic, how does it work? Do you really find it difficult to understand the difference between “this proposal doesn’t address the real problem” and “strapping young Irish bucks don’t deserve T-bone steaks”, or do you think lying about it serves your argument better?

              • Aimai says:

                It really is me. The autocorrect only works on my iphone.

                I really don’t understand why my arguing that I don’t think a 1000 dollar bonus dealt out to some, but not all, people moving states for jobs is a good use of public monies is somehow proof that I’ve suddenly become an evil person. I fully support progressive taxation, public education, the welfare state, Snap, TANF, demilitarization and etc…

                I don’t think that the state should subsidize the failures of walmart and large corporations to pay full time work a good minimum wage and I see the “moving money” as just one more way that we re-arrange deckchairs on the titanic instead of focusing on forcing corporations to pay a living wage with benefits. Especially in a prolonged recession when there simply aren’t jobs for people to move to or if they are moving there they are taking jobs from other people who are already present. I don’t see any value in giving guy X 1000 dollars to move to some other person’s state and take a job there that three otherpeople in that state are already competing for.

                Those are perfectly reasonable arguments, not right wing arguments and not selfish arguments.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Lots of people are arguing against the proposal.

                  No one except you has felt the need to include such doozies as “Irish immigrants didn’t have this social program, so why should poor people have it today?” or “Lots of people move without government assistance,” or “Unemployed people should tap their social networks for money instead of looking to the government.”

                • I continue to not see why you think this is going to apply to people applying at Wal-Mart, as though Wal-Mart is going to want to bother with hiring someone from several states away, waiting for them to get the money from the government, get moved, etc. To the extent this is going to be useful, it’s going to be in more professional occupations.

                • Aimai says:

                  Oh, I see. I included the point about Irish immigrants because I’m actually quite familiar with the history of labor markets and how immigrants move around from country to country and how push and pull work for people when there are jobs for them to head to. I’m not arguing against government programs because I am opposed to government programs at all. I am pointing out that social networks are more important and more effective in helping people move between countries and around countries and are generally the way people come to know about where jobs are and get hired for them.

                  I see that this struck you as somehow weird but I don’t think it is at all. I think its weird to think that there is a huge call for a lump sum payout to people to help them move to get a single job somewhere so far away from where they are already living that they don’t have any contacts there. Thats just not the way most people find jobs except when there is a period of mass migration (as from the south to the north or east to west) because of the opening up of lots of jobs in factories, the gold rush, or the opening of the west to farmers.

                • Aimai says:

                  This is in response to Brien in re Walmart.

                  Of course Walmart isn’t going to be hiring from states away. But who is hiring some guy from states away who needs the 1000 dollars to move and can show he already has the job? Is that how people get jobs at the lowest level where no signing bonus and no moving expenses get paid? Joe is arguing that there are lots of such jobs, existing somewhere other than where the worker is. I don’t think there are lots of such jobs. I’m sure there aren’t small jobs at small restaurants that are going begging such that some guy who needs a 1000 dollars to get there in the first place is going to be the one hired. And if the person doesn’t have a job in hand in another city or state then what are the standards by which the money is going to be disbursed? What makes this any different than a program that simply gives people some money and a ticket to get out of dodge regardless of their work prospects somewhere else?

                  Its Joe’s proposal, not mine. I can’t figure out how its supposed to work but it doesn’t work well in any current labor market I can think of. Again: if there is a dearth of workers and a tight labor market in place X the companies looking for workers usually raise pay and send out recruiters to bring workers to where they need them. No government money is needed to make this happen.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Yes, yes, you’ve come up with explanations for why these right-wing talking points you’ve never used before, and which you reliably mock when you see them, are actually really good points.

                  And you thought that delivering a long and very calm and respectful explanation about them was the best way to respond to me calling you out as Jen Bob.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Oh, and you’ve decided to keep talking about me throughout a conversation with Brien.

                  Nope, not Jen Bob trolling at all.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Oh, and the autocorrect hilarity vanishes at exactly the same moment your hostility towards right-wing talking points does.

                • Aimai says:

                  OK, Joe, if you can’t handle a direct and honest disagreement with a long time commenter, who links to her own blog, just go ahead and say so. I think you’ve pretty much exhausted whatever point you were trying to make and you’ve simply descended into ad hominmems — rendered all the funnier in that you are simultaneously insulting me directly for being so right wing and stupid,and also blaming poor Jen/Bob for hijacking my good nym.

                  I’ll go back to reading Roman history and stop arguing with you on this point. Please: spend your fantasy money any way that makes sense to you.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  The problem with using someone else’s name and linking to their blog as a cover is that I get to do this:

                  You can prove me wrong just by saying Hi, or mentioning LGM, in a blog post.

                  I will give you the world’s biggest apology if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I will be.

                  I think I’ll be reading a long explanation of why you don’t want to do that.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  I used to think that JenBob was dumb, but then I met a person who couldn’t tell the difference between Aimai and JenBob. Which leads to the obvious conclusion: JenBob, please stop trying to impersonate and discredit joe from Lowell. You’re casting aspersions on his asparagus.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  Oh, and jfL, that long explanation you’re awaiting is here:

          • UserGoogol says:

            Obamaphones are too much of a fake scandal for me to interpret there as being much of a causal relationship between individual programs and political outrage. You can’t predict what will cause people to be outraged at the bloated welfare state, so it’s pointless trying to take that into account as a cost of programs.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        I agree about “politically scarce,” though. This certainly shouldn’t be at the top of the agenda for either employment or social welfare policy.

  7. Gone2Ground says:

    From the article, the only one that sounds even remotely progressive is the workshare possibility.

    The rest of it looks like standard boilerplate RW crap:
    “vouchers,” (i.e., grifting)
    “entitlement reform,” (i.e., working class/poor bashing)
    “domestic energy production,” (Let’s Frack some More!)
    “getting the gubmint off the backs of entrepenuers,”
    and of course, my personal fave:

    • “Allowing firms to hire the long-term unemployed at less than the current minimum wage and supplementing their income with an EITC-like payment“

    Because WalMart’s heirs just aren’t rich enough yet at the expense of the American workforce. (Why do I get the feeling this idea actually CAME from WalMart as one last chisel from the taxpayer?)

    I also enjoyed the idea of loosening professional certification requirements. Because what we really need in America are more “loosely trained” electricians, plumbers, and child care providers.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      See, I thought “workshare” meant “reduce everyone’s hours below the level that come with benefits.”

      • Malaclypse says:

        At least in MA, one of the requirements of Workshare is that it cannot lead to employees losing benefits.

        • Aimai says:

          I agree with Joe on this one, I think “workshare” is a weird idea. If you have to legislate it to make sure that each worker is, essentially, guaranteed full time benefits for part time work it doesn’t seem like it can ever make financial sense for the employer. Forcing employers to make accomodations for part time workers, offer full benefits to everyone, and also pay time and a half for overtime seems like its a better set of proposals.

          • Malaclypse says:

            I was workshared in 2008. Rather than lay off 20% of everybody, we all worked 4-day weeks, got a 20% pay cut, kept bennies, and got pro-rated unemployment. When things picked back up, we all had our jobs. The MA system is explained here.

            It isn’t a substitute for overtime, it is an alternative to mass layoffs.

      • Gone2Ground says:

        Well, of course, at Heritage that’s what it means….

        what others said below. I did a jobshare program that reduced my hours, let me keep benefits, and had the added benefit of partially reimbursing my employer through UI, although I was not technically on UI at the time.

        I was thinking of mandatory 30 hour workweeks for everybody as “workshare”. (With benefits). That way, instead of employers beating everyone to a pulp with 60 hour weeks, they are compelled to hire two 30 hour workers until things pick up, or spread the work around to people already employed rather than just slashing and continuing at the same pace.

  8. Gone2Ground says:

    Do the wonks at these think tanks have some kind of chip implanted in their heads that just negates anything like an actual program to help the unemployed, you know, like we did in the Great Depression?

  9. Steve says:

    Moving subsidy? Reminds me of the proposals addressing what to do with all those starving Irish people. “Why, four millions could profitably work the cane fields of Barbados…”

    I’d say Heritage is about ten minutes from talking up the deliciousness of poor children.

  10. montag2 says:

    Why do I have the persistent feeling that when conservatives say “moving voucher,” they mean “bus ticket?”

  11. BigHank53 says:

    At some point in the mid-eighties Michigan was screwed enough that if an unemployed resident brought in a job offer from another state, they’d buy him or her a bus ticket there.

    • Aimai says:

      Las Vegas is giving hospital patients bus tickets to Los Angeles right now. If there were money out there to ship problem workers/unemployed people out of state the chances that it would be used to reduce UI rolls without actually producing more employment is pretty damned high.

  12. Joseph Nobles says:

    So an unemployed minority mother of two could take her moving voucher, move the family to a nice (white) neighborhood, and then use a school voucher to get her kids into a private prep high school?


  13. […] wasn’t full-time, so his family doesn’t get the full range of death benefits. •LGM suggests some problems with the idea of a subsidy so people can move to where there are more jobs. The […]

  14. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t Mississippi pilot this program in the 1960’s?

    Giving bus tickets to NY for people applying for welfare in Mississippi?

    Or is that an urban legend that the older folks could clear up?

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, tax deductions for moves already exist.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        tax deductions for moves already exist

        I’m sure that’s a big help for people who have enough money to 1) front the moving expenses and 2) pay federal income taxes.

        It doesn’t really make sense as a solution for people too poor to move in the first place, though.

  15. LosGatosCa says:

    A really creative right wingnut think tank could do much better than this idea. Like kill two birds with one stone.

    How about hiring the unemployed to carry radioactive nuclear waste to their new home in Yucca Mountain?

  16. Western Dave says:

    You know, it’s not like we didn’t ry this with the whole Relocation program for Native Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. That program was a fracking disaster. Native Americans ended up either stuck in slums in cities cut off from their kin and with no way back to the rez and the rez got emptied out of able bodied skilled workers so that it’s just a bunch of old people and children (and dysfunctional unemployed) which makes it really hard to pull the rez out of poverty. Most of the wages earned in city were spent elsewhere, even if the things they were spent on eventually ended up on the rez. I’m with Amai, chain migration works because people bring their social networks with them. A moving subsidy isn’t going to help that. It’s going to make poor areas more poor and cause hellacious boom and bust cycles in places people are moving to. See also, every mining boom ever.

  17. DocAmazing says:

    As long as we’re fantasizing, let’s fantasize grandly.

    When I was in college, students at my school were eligible for a no-interest $200 loan that had to be paid back by end of semester. The university could hold up your graduation if you tried to default on it. I used those loans a few times: the money came in handy when I was between paychecks. So: what about a Federal equivalent? How about, say, a $5K interest-free loan for a term of one year, with significant penalties for late payment, available to all taxpayers with incomes under, say, $60K. They could then use it for moving, or groceries, or whatever their needs of the moment were.

    Credit card companies might not like it, but they’ve had a free ride for a long time.

  18. stryx says:

    I’ve tried on my own, now there’s nothing to keep me at home,
    All the love and the strength has been taken by this Government,
    You see they, tell you to move around –
    If you can’t find work in your own town.

    -The Style Council,1985

  19. Timb says:

    I will — again — note the pernicious influence of David Autor in Strain and Matthew’s essays. That the plan to fix the unemployed is offered on the backs of the disabled. As always, it’s couched in language to “eliminate” the tendency of the disabled to not re-enter the workforce.

    Wll, duh, they’re disabled. How these rich, white guys always think a smart way to help people is by hurting the disabled is baffling.

    Meanwhile, SSA and the NBER have hired Autor to conduct a five year study in how better to screw people. Ah, David Autor finally gets that sweet, sweet government money he so wants to keep from other people.

    Like all of these proposals, like the moving subsidy, for example, these seem like decent ideas, but will be implemented on the backs of the people they are supposed to help and/or wil make no difference

  20. joe from Lowell says:

    Sorry, Aimai, I was mistaken.

  21. joe from Lowell says:

    Wow. Pseudo. You really are a prick.

    • Pseudonym says:

      Yeah, I can be one when I try, and that wasn’t trying all that hard. I thought you were hijacking a discussion by deliberately misrepresenting someone’s argument. I apologize for interpreting your behavior as malice rather than, well, misapprehension I suppose. You would never make that kind of mistake, right?

  22. Matt says:

    One thing notably missing from the AEI analysis: any mention of why we the taxpayers should PAY for said relocation vouchers. Surely, if there’s someplace that’s short enough on workers that relocating people there would have *any* macro-level impact, employers in said place should be market-driven to offer relocation incentives themselves.

    Absent that, it’s basically a way for AEI to cheerlead for MOAR subsidies to low-wage employers: and I’d bet there’s a “you have to pay back the subsidy if you quit because the job is bullshit, or get sacked for trying to unionize” clause in there too, because nothing gives the greedheads a boner faster than workers who are too desperate to complain.

    • steve says:

      Theoretically greater labor-market mobility would allow for quicker recovery in the aftermath of a recession, which would have positive benefits for everyone. Even if this program worked however (and it wouldn’t for the reasons Scott laid out), it would have to be massive to have a noticable impact on the state of federal- economy.

      • steve says:

        Oh and it would only work during a nascent recovery, once there actually were jobs that needed filling but insufficient labor mobility to allow for matching. It would be essentially useless in the trench of the recession when there were no jobs.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Moving vouchers would have some value as a social-welfare program, but offering them in response to a question about reducing unemployment is a dodge by the AEI economist.

        It’s the Health Savings Accounts proposal all over maybe. Maybe it’s a worthwhile program on its own, but it’s not a good-faith proposal to deal with the problem of people lacking health insurance.

  23. joe from Lowell says:

    Citing industrial-era (lack of) social policy, such as the history of Irish migration, as a model we look to today, as a push-back against a proposal for social welfare spending, is something no liberal should ever do. Until yesterday, it was something I’d never seen any liberal do; rather, it’s a classic right-wing argument against liberal social policy.

    We’re talking about a system that left hundreds of thousands of people dead of starvation in Ireland. The “tapping of social and church networks” in that case left people dead on the side of the road with their mouths green from eating grass. Many thousands more died on the coffin ships coming over. This is a system to emulate?

    Since when to liberal cite the lack of a social policy in the industrial era, and the fate of poor workers under that system, as a reason against having a policy now?

    Nope, it wasn’t Jen Bob impersonating Aimai; it was Aimai impersonating Jen Bob. I apologize for my confusion once again.

    • steve says:

      I don’t want to get involved in this disagreement but I’ll say that social networks are quite complex and their effects are ambiguous. A strong/dense network can provide social/financial support, promote information flow and contribute to effective neighborhood policing but it can also drag people down with an unending series of obligations that drain savings and prevent economic advancement (i.e. the “leveling effect.”). And the same ability to monitor and sanction criminal behavior can allow a community to become oppressive in sanctioning “deviant” behavior of all sorts.

      Networks are definitely important for working class communities. That the poor rely on them to survive does not mean that they are sufficient as a social safety net or that they can remain resillient and effective in the face of something like a famine. On the other hand we shouldn’t treat social networks as some sort of ersatz substitute for social welfare policy with the expectation that their importance to the poor will fade away with a sufficiently robust public assistance program.

      Basically networks serve a variety of functions. Some functions can be augmented with good welfare policy; some functions are probably better handled by good welfare policy; some functions cannot be easly addressed by public policy and will likely remain the purview of social networks.

    • Pseudonym says:

      I still think you’re misreading Aimai’s argument here, so I’ll try to be less of a prick as I explain it. The point of citing the Irish immigrants was not to endorse 19th century social policy. It’s that in spite of that social policy and the many obstacles, the Irish were still able to lean on their social support networks so they could migrate across an ocean to a new country, because there were jobs available in that country. Now, however, there are not jobs available (at least in significant quantity) so subsidizing relocation isn’t really relevant.

  24. steve says:

    For anyone interested, Moving to Opportunity ( a RCT done through HUD (with Larry Katz as PI) that gave Section 8 voucher holders in impoverished communities the chance to move to neighborhoods with 10% poverty rate or less. This was not done specificaly to combat unemployment but rather because there is a long line of research that shows that being poor in impoverished neighborhoods has negative effects above and beyond simply being poor. The thought was that this would improve health, safety, and child outcomes and might also lead to integration into a new network that would provide access to jobs, information and more robust social/financial support.

    The results were mixed…people felt safer, were less likely to get sick or be victims of crime, and had far better housing stock. On the other hand they were generally unable to integrate into social networks there (and felt quite isolated) or obtain stable employment. Program group participants often returned to their old neighborhoods for jobs, for social support and socializing, essentially they gained a commute. Female children of the participants showed some gains in school performance but male children showed declines in performance and increases in delinquency (associated it seems with serious trouble fitting in).

    Basically what Scott said is right; the poor rely on networks of social support that can’t easily be recreated after a move. regarding immigration: some particularly entreprenurial first-wave immigrants can flourish after a move (non-representative) despite these challenges but later waves often rely on tightly-knit enclaves of co-ethnics who help them acclimate and integrate into these crucial networks. For something like this voucher or MTO to really work, you’d have to have active buy in from the community into which these folks are moving; and that is unlikely to arise through a simple policy change.

  25. mpowell says:

    I think you are wrong about one thing: the AEI does actually care about unemployment. They would be happy if all able bodied adults were working. And non able bodied adults. And most seniors. And more kids. Especially if they could work for $3/hr at Wal-Mart. The AEI would much prefer that scenario to our current one. They would be willing to slash the minimum wage, slash UI and slash SS to make it happen. They’ve made this point quite clear over the years. I think you could even put together a broad short term stimulus-oriented tax cut (as long as the 1% got the biggest tax cut) to go along with these policy changes and the AEI would support it.

  26. […] seem lately that Dylan Matthews’ presence there is intended to fulfill some quota of center-right pseudo-contrarianism that’s hard-coded into the Post’s DNA. A recent provocation, this time on inequality, is a more […]

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