GDP growth has averaged just 2% since the end of the Great Recession in May 2009.
The Federal Reserve has taken unprecedented steps to keep interest rates low in the meantime but these efforts aren’t boosting GDP and, in addition, have quite harmful side effects.
Wages are growing and consumers are spending money but business investment is shrinking and productivity growth is slowing.
This means that the problem is supply side rather than demand side, contrary to what many economists are saying.
At least part of the problem is a lack of skilled workers. Two articles in today’s Wall Street Journal, here and here point out that:
America is now home to a vast army of jobless men, seven million of them age 25 to 54, who are no longer even looking for work. This is 15.6% of the traditional prime of working life.
Openings for manufacturing jobs this year have averaged 353,000 per month up from 311,000 per month in 2015 and 121,000 per month in 2009.
According to the Manufacturing Institute, 8 in 10 manufacturing executives say that the growing skills gap will affect their ability to keep up with customer demand.
As shown in the above chart, at the present time there are only an average of two unemployed manufacturing workers for each job opening, way down from the level in 2010.
Conclusion. Speeding up economic growth requires new business investment in order to increase worker productivity. But a lack of skilled and trained workers will greatly hamper this effort. The solution here is better vocational and career training in high schools and at community colleges.
Several months ago the Omaha World Herald reported that Nebraska has approximately 45,000 illegal immigrants, or about 2.5% of the state’s population. Nebraska’s unemployment rate has now dropped to 3.4%, the third lowest in the nation behind only North Dakota and South Dakota. Such a low unemployment rate represents a labor shortage. There simply aren’t enough Nebraskans to perform all of the physically demanding, low skill work needed in the agriculture, meatpacking and construction industries. It is this labor shortage which is attracting such a large number of illegal immigrants to Nebraska. According to the New York Times, the Tea Party has recently changed its focus from “curtailing the reach of the federal government, cutting the deficit and countering the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party to becoming largely an anti-immigration overhaul movement.” This is a very unfortunate development.
Why would it be so difficult to solve our illegal immigration problem in the following manner:
Give all businesses a limited period of time, perhaps six months, to present a list of current employees who are illegal. Everyone on this list without a criminal record would receive a guest worker visa.
Going forward, businesses would be authorized to hire additional foreign workers as needed with guest worker visas issued in their home country. This would eliminate the need for illegal entry into the U.S.
As of a certain date in the near future, all businesses would be required to periodically demonstrate the legal status of all workers on their payroll.
Guest workers would be eligible to apply for citizenship after a lengthy period of time, perhaps ten years.
Once an adequate guest worker visa program has been set up and is operating efficiently, security on our southern border with Mexico would hardly be more of a problem than is security on our northern border with Canada. Illegal immigration should be considered as an economic problem, not a law-enforcement problem.
If it were handled correctly in this way, the problem would disappear in short order!
In his ever provocative fashion, columnist Paul Krugman claims in today’s New York Times that fiscal conservatives, i.e. Republicans, are conducting “War On the Unemployed” because extended unemployment benefits are being allowed to expire both nationally and in various states around the country. According to Mr. Krugman it is “meanspiritedness converging with bad economic analysis” because more government spending will boost the economy and, moreover, the federal deficit is nothing to be concerned about.
The problem is that we have now had enormous fiscal stimulus, i.e. huge federal deficits, for five years, as well as a highly expansive monetary policy, and the economy is still barely limping along at a 2% growth rate. It is unfortunate that so many liberals are ideologically opposed to broad-based tax reform whereby tax rates would be lowered in a revenue neutral way by either eliminating entirely, or else cutting back substantially, the many tax preferences, deductions and loopholes which pervade the tax code. By emphasizing profit potential over tax avoidance strategies, this would give a big boost to business risk takers and thereby lead to economic growth and lower unemployment.
At the same time that our economy is suffering from low growth and high unemployment, our national debt is exploding to a large extent because the federal government is spending too much money. Efforts to rein in government spending across the board are highly desirable and should be supported as simple common sense.
By advocating tax reform to boost the private economy and, at the same time, restraining federal spending wherever possible, fiscal conservatives are helping the long-term unemployed far more than their supposed champions who are doing just the opposite!