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Improving Worker Mobility Will Help Fix the Economy | Commentary

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proclaimed, “We can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy.”

The economic crisis devastated our workforce, and Congress must act to get America working again. Our economy is stronger when it has a workforce that is fully employed. As Obama put it: “America is stronger when we field a full team.”

Unemployed Americans continue to struggle, seeking jobs that will support their families and give them a chance to earn their share of the American dream. American workers do not want a handout. They want to earn a paycheck, and we must come together to remove the barriers that prevent employment.

Four million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer — 1 million more than at the peak of the last recession. Studies show that the most damaging aspect of this long-term unemployment is a significantly increased difficulty in re-entering the workforce.

While long-term unemployment is a national problem, it does not fall evenly across the states. Huge disparities exist in the unemployment rates of heavily impacted states and those hit less hard by the recession.

It is difficult for unemployed workers to move and fill the jobs available in other states. The World Bank reported that after the Great Recession, “Lower labor mobility [in the U.S. market] may make it more difficult to lower unemployment rates.”

This mobility crisis hurts workers, but it also stifles economic growth. When companies can’t find enough qualified workers in low-unemployment areas, productivity suffers, and so does that local community.

There is a bipartisan understanding of this drag on our economy.

Now, we must go further and make every effort to find bipartisan solutions so we can alleviate the suffering experienced by so many Americans.

That is why, together, we introduced the American Worker Mobility Act. This legislation would create an opportunity within the Labor Department to provide an adjustment to the long-term unemployed to relocate for the purpose of attaining or accepting employment.

This adjustment will help workers in areas with high unemployment move to growing areas, stabilizing the job market and reducing unemployment.

This is a bipartisan plan that will help our economy without adding to our federal deficit. It can actually reduce that deficit.

When fully implemented, the plan will allow Americans who live in high-unemployment areas and who have been out of work for a long time to receive a lump-sum voucher to move to a growth area. Workers who have job offers that require relocation can also receive funding.

Conservative and progressive economists agree that this program could provide critical relief to Americans who cannot find jobs in their own communities.

American Enterprise Institute economist Michael Strain said, “I think relocation vouchers are a good idea. If you look at unemployment rates and other labor-market indicators, they really vary a lot from place to place. But, moving is expensive. So I think if the government could help out some of these folks to move — just those who want to, certainly not forcing anyone — you can imagine them having an easier time getting a job.”

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