Saturday, September 29, 2012

Help Wanted…What Your Government Could Do, But Won’t.

"Politicians like to tell people what they want to hear - and what they want to hear is what won't happen."
-Paul Samuelson

How is it that with so many unemployed and under-employed Americans, we still have over 3 million unfilled jobs? Many economists (and politicians) point to “structural” issues or a significant “skills gap”. People just don’t have the right training for the jobs that are available. I would agree that this is a major factor. I would also suggest that it’s not going to be solved overnight. It’s taken us 40+ years to dig this “structural unemployment” hole and it will take a while to get out of it.

But, there are three other factors which impact the unfilled jobs situation and they could be addressed immediately. These three factors are: Location…Location….Location. In many cases, the people are simply not where the jobs are. It’s that basic. You may say, “Well, it’s a free country. Why don’t they just relocate to the work?”

The truth is that many of them have and many will. But there are still thousands of families that are trapped. It can be a house they can’t sell. Or the spouse has a job that doesn’t pay much but at least they have insurance. Or the kids have been in this school district all of their lives. Or we’ve got “a support system” here (family, church, etc). Or maybe they are just scraping by and literally cannot afford any disruption to whatever income and public/private assistance they are receiving.

But with all of the millions of dollars our state and federal government spends on programs to help people in need, you would think there would be some way to help folks get to where the jobs are. Wouldn’t it be better to have them as productive, tax paying citizens? Well, that depends on how you look at it. They say all politics is local and that is never truer than when you look at how politicians view economic development.

Let’s say I am a Congressman who represents a district that is suffering from high unemployment. I work hard to “take care of my people” with government programs, grants and such. They vote for me. I am on their side fighting against “the powerful forces” that have put them in this predicament. The people keep voting for me. Someday they may figure out that I’m not doing them much good and vote for someone else. But, for the time being they vote for me and one thing I know for sure: if they don’t live in my district, they can’t vote for me. So why would I push for any type of program that creates mobility for my constituents? It is not in my best interest to see these people move to other places even if it means they would be better off there. I am better off with them here, in my district. So I do what I can to keep them pacified and give them a little bit of hope.

If we want to fix this problem (along with many others) we need term limits. Otherwise, we will continue to see tax dollars thrown away just keeping people alive in places where they have little chance of ever making a decent living.

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