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News from EPI How effective is President Obama’s jobs plan?

For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 8, 2011
Phoebe Silag or Karen Conner, 202-775-8810

From Working Economics, the new EPI blog:

How effective is President Obama’s jobs plan?

by EPI President Lawrence Mishel

Earlier today and in our recent paper we laid out some criteria for assessing a jobs plan. So, how did President Obama do by our criteria? Very well, as the package provides a substantial boost to the economy in addition to continuing the important efforts already underway (providing unemployment compensation and the payroll tax holiday). The components of the plan are highly effective for the most part, including spending on various types of infrastructure, support for teachers and first responders, and a new jobs tax credit. So, it will be effective and at a scale that can really move the dial. The initial year (or more) will be deficit financed so the effort doesn’t take away with one hand what the other hand had already done—paying for the program in the out years of a 10-year period allows this. So, the plan does get high grades.

Now to our four criteria outlined earlier…

Criterion One: Will the policy make a real difference in job creation in the next 24 months?

The first question that should be asked about a jobs plan is, “Will a sizable number of jobs be created within two years?” The answer is that the plan does set policies that will move the dial in the next year. First, the continuation (actually the expansion) of the employee payroll tax holiday and the current program of emergency unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed prevents the loss of jobs. Second, there are new efforts that will boost spending and thereby generate jobs and lower unemployment: transportation infrastructure, the infrastructure bank, school repair and modernization, and funds for state/local governments to support teachers and first responders. This new spending amounts, we estimate, to as much as $125 billion, an amount that generates perhaps as much 1.5 million jobs. That certainly moves the dial. Third, the expansion of the employee-side payroll tax holiday and the new jobs tax credit (similar, we understand, to what EPI proposed back in 2009) will add more employment. Last, the proposal to provide a payroll tax holiday for employers on the first $5 million of payroll is not all that effective as I wrote earlier. However, some analysts  project that this would help generate jobs as well. Overall, this plan does provide a serious amount of investments and support for the economy above the continuation of the current effort (payroll tax holiday, unemployment compensation). Consequently, it will make a real difference over the next year or two.

Criterion two: Is the policy effective and efficient?

We said, “A jobs plan should be an effective use of resources so that each billion dollars in either expenditures or lost revenue generates more jobs than alternative plans.” This plan meets this criteria as it provides efforts that are very effective at generating jobs, including providing unemployment compensation, and improving infrastructure (roads, highways, schools). This part of the plan, thankfully, dominates the weaker efforts such as allowing accelerated depreciation for business or the employer-side tax holiday.

Criterion three: How is the policy funded?

We said, “The most effective job creation policies cannot be ‘paid for’ by higher taxes or other spending cuts in the near term. Effective jobs policy injects money into the economy and increases the overall demand for goods and services, thereby raising the need for more workers to produce those goods and services. But if a job creation policy must be ‘budget neutral’—that is, it must be accompanied by a tax increase or budget cut—then the benefits of the spending injected in the economy are diluted at best. So, an effective jobs plan should either be deficit financed or paid for in later years only after the economy is much stronger and has much lower unemployment.”

We don’t have much details on the ‘pay fors’ but it seems that they will all kick in no sooner than 2013 and probably later than that. So, the plan is deficit neutral over 10 years but it does raise the deficit over the next years or so. AS IT SHOULD!

Criterion four: Is the policy at the appropriate scale to produce a substantial number of jobs?

We said, “In order to put a significant dent in unemployment and establish a fast trajectory toward low unemployment, the jobs plan must be sufficiently large.” This plan puts about $450 billion into the economy over the next years or so. That is substantially above the $167 billion needed to maintain the current effort (payroll tax holiday and unemployment compensation), so the plan provides a substantial boost.

Proponents of jobs plans should set clear goals regarding the extent to which unemployment will be reduced over the next two years. While the first three criteria can be used to evaluate individual job creation policies in isolation, this final criterion of scale should be applied instead to a package of job-creation policies.