Getting Back to Work

“A job is about more than a paycheck. It is about more than productivity and adding to the national income. Working is central to the flourishing life. One of the things sound public policy does is to help provide the conditions under which our fellow citizens can flourish, realize their whole human potential, and lead lives of dignity.”

— Michael R. Strain

Troubling conditions in the labor market have persisted as Americans continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession. The labor force participation rate shows little improvement – especially for men in their prime working years – and is cause for serious concern. In such a time of need, poorly designed government policies have only increased the barriers to work. This unsettling trend points to stark implications for future economic growth and standards of living for the American people.

Michael Strain offers an array of conservative reforms to combat unnecessary regulation and improve poor employment prospects. First and foremost, he advocates expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless adults. Previous expansions of the tax credit have noticeably increased the workforce participation rate of eligible beneficiaries.

Second, apprenticeship programs, which combine on-the-job training and academic coursework, should be expanded. Strain contends firms, which are intricately familiar with the skills and abilities they need in their workers, should drive such programs – not the federal government.

Third, Strain convincingly demonstrates how the social safety net can better encourage work. The Social Security Disability Insurance program, for example, has failed to adapt to an increasingly service-based economy, and is therefore an obstacle to improving both the labor market and opportunities for disabled adults.

Strain offers several other conservative solutions to provide greater employment opportunity and encourage work. In addition to advocating cutting payroll taxes, Strain identifies three ways to reduce barriers to work: reduce commute times for low-income workers who live farther from areas of greater opportunity, implement policies that make it easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain work (e.g. “ban the box”), and reform burdensome, unnecessary occupational licensing regulations.

Taken together, such measures will increase employment opportunities and economic mobility.