Mona Charen: The new workers’ party
By Mona Charen
The Obama administration’s response to the Congressional Budget Office’s prediction that Obamacare will cause 2.5 million fewer Americans to work in the coming years is an opportunity for Republicans to seize the moral high ground on the issue of work.
Rather than dispute the CBO’s analysis — which would have been awkward, as the White House has touted CBO’s predictions in the past — the administration is spinning the jobs loss as a kind of liberation. No longer tied down to the pesky need to earn a salary, some Americans will be able to follow their bliss.
This is part of a pattern from this administration (it would be crude to call it a “war on work”), of incentives, disincentives, taxes, regulations and other decisions that make jobs more difficult to find and unemployment more entrenched.
If a Republican were in the White House, the state of unemployment in America would be on everyone’s lips. As Michael Strain outlines in National Affairs, the absolute number of long-term unemployed and their share of the jobless are both at post-World War II highs. Five years after the end of the Great Recession, the economy still has 1.3 million fewer jobs than it had in 2008. The employment rate among 24-54-year-olds, the prime working population, plummeted in 2009 and has scarcely recovered since.
The Democrats have struck out in their efforts to improve the jobs picture. The $1 trillion stimulus package proved not to contain “shovel-ready jobs” (and few of any other kind). Obamacare encourages employers to reduce employees’ hours, increases taxes on a significant share of the economy, and adds layers of stifling bureaucracy to an already-burdened sector. Extending unemployment compensation to 99 weeks ameliorated the pain of being out of work, but may also have dulled the incentive to search for replacement jobs. The same was true of dramatically increasing the disability rolls — a permanent alternative to work. Increasing the minimum wage adds a barrier to employment just when we need fewer.
The administration touts the number of new jobs in the energy sector, but all of those have come from exploration on privately owned land. Pressure from environmentalists prevents the president from opening public lands to drilling and approving the Keystone pipeline. The symbol of this administration isn’t a guy in a hard hat but Pajama Boy cradling his hot cocoa.
During the Cold War, the surest sign that a political party would spell doom to the average person was if it had the word “workers” in its title. Leftist governments destroyed the standard of living of scores of millions of people around the globe (when they didn’t kill them outright). It was all in the name of the “workers” and sometimes “peasants.”
The decline of work is more than an economic challenge — though it is clearly that. It is also a profound moral, familial and even spiritual crisis for those affected. Americans derive a large measure of their self-esteem from work. Prolonged joblessness is linked to depression, disease, family breakups, suicide and, of course, poverty.
Just as Republicans are wise to offer alternatives to Obamacare (as Sens. Tom Coburn, Richard Burr and Orrin Hatch have recently done), they should be proposing policy initiatives to create jobs. Strain suggests several: relocation subsidies to help people move from high-unemployment regions to those with more job openings, eliminating barriers to entry, like excessive licensing requirements (it requires an average of 372 training days to become a cosmetologist, compared with 33 days to become an emergency medical technician), permitting more high-skilled immigration (25 percent of engineering and tech businesses founded between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder), and decreasing the minimum wage for the first six months of employment for those who’ve been unemployed for longer than 27 weeks.
Part of the Democrats’ approach is to make unemployment more bearable, whether through Obamacare subsidies, disability payments or prolonged unemployment insurance. The other part of their program is to make unemployment more likely, through higher minimum wages, more regulation of businesses, a less friendly environment for investment, and sweetheart deals for politically connected firms.
Republicans should seize the opportunity to become the party of jobs — the true party of workers.