We've not had that problem in the U.S. in the past. Historically, Americans have been willing to pick up and move when jobs disappeared, but American mobility is down to its lowest level in years. Many analysts thought that the reason might be that the depressed real estate market made it more difficult for homeowners who lost their jobs to move, but a recent study by economists Colleen Donovan and Calvin Schnure shows that the inability to sell houses that are below water has not had a major effect on the unemployment rate.
The real problem in long-term unemployment may be a president who wants to emulate the European social model. The more he succeeds in prolonging benefits, the greater the chance that long-term unemployment will remain high even when jobs are available. It's a fact of human nature that when benefits are generous, some people will find not working more attractive than working.
New Jersey, for example, has the highest number of long-term unemployed, 37 percent, but it also pays high unemployment benefits, averaging $394 a week, almost $100 a week more than the national average. If you can earn $20,000 a year for not working, what incentive is there to take a job that pays about the same or even slightly more? But chances are, when those benefits run out, you can bet a $25,000 or $30,000 a year job will look a lot better.
The Germans have a word for what the president and his allies in Congress may have done by extending unemployment benefits: schlimmbesserung. Roughly translated, the term means an effort to make things better that ends up making them worse.
As counterintuitive as it might seem, if we want to improve our unemployment numbers, the best thing to do would be to shorten eligibility.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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