I was asked to provide links and suggestions in terms of policies to respond to unemployment in Ireland. The broad fiscal and monetary causes of unemployment are discussed in many other places and it is clear that a combination of a property bubble, banking collapse and policies that have kept aggregate demand too low are all contributing factors. In considering unemployment, it is clear that more than just the short run shock to income and consumption should be considered. There is substantial evidence that unemployment has substantial negative psychological effects that are scarring over life and also potentially self-perpetuating. Therefore it should get greater weighting in policy contexts than for models that just examine narrow financial variables. Below are some ideas on potential policy development.
(i) Bell and Blanchflower have written several papers on responding to unemployment in particular to youth unemployment. In one of the most directly relevant to policy, they list 10 potential policies for the UK environment. These are listed below. It is clear that some of these are more feasible than others in the Irish context. For example, people might find a raising of the school leaving age infeasible but a proxy policy such as the introduction of an Education Maintenance allowance is surely worth debating. Similarly, people may not think a fiscal stimulus (at least at Irish-specific level) is feasible but that does not negate the potential for examining the employment consequences of existing current and in particular capital spending. Also some of the policies below have been features of the Irish environment in various ways including increasing the number of back-to-education places.
a. The government should undertake a substantial fiscal stimulus focused on jobs, as soon as possible
b. Provide large cuts in income taxes and National Insurance Contributions aimed at the low paid and the young. For the unemployed, mortgage interest payments could also be paid by the government in the form of a loan, with the proviso that it would have to be paid back eventually.
c. Increase the education leaving age to eighteen starting in June 1st 2009 or as soon thereafter as is feasible.
d. Provide further encouragement for those in the age range 18-24 to undertake further/higher education by increasing the number of places available
e. Provide further encouragement for those in the age range 18-24 to undertake further/higher education by providing financial inducements for them to do so
f. Expand the numbers of teacher training places as soon as possible with an emphasis on training in further education
g. Do direct job creation through increased investment in the infrastructure with particular emphasis on ‘shovel ready’ projects that could start quickly.
h. Allow public sector and non-profit organizations to fill available vacancies by providing increased funding for two years
i. Temporary, limited and targeted expansion of ALMPs
j. Provide incentives to encourage the use of short-time working and job sharing as alternatives to redundancy and unemployment. These might take the form of time limited tax incentives
(ii) See the session from the 2012 Irish economy conference last year for a range of coherent ideas. The session on early childhood development is also very useful.
(iii) The role of better designed welfare and activation policies drawing from developments in the economics of evaluation is something that should be discussed further. Very few if any of the current government employment programmes have been or can be evaluated formally due to the way they are rolled out. For example, the evaluation of Jobbridge does not contain a sufficiently well-constructed control group to allow us to know what would have happened had Jobbridge not been rolled out. This is a problem across most areas of government intervention in the labour market and it hampers the ability to learn from programmes that are rolled out. The best way to achieve this would be to have someone who knows how to construct a causal evaluation assist in the process of writing the tenders for these evaluations, something that does not appear to happen at present.
(iv) I have posted here on a number of occasions about the potential role of understanding psychology in designing welfare policies and job activation. Many activation policies are based on models of human behaviour that are not grounded in empirical evidence. Denise Hawkes from UCL Institute of Education and others have been conducting very interesting behavioural trials in UK job centres (see recent Stirling conference for summary). This is early stage work but is an obvious direction for figuring out how to make government supports for people who are unemployment more effective and supportive. The redevelopment of FAS/SOLAS and the design of communication about welfare policies, education incentives and so on should integrate this literature.
(v) The key missing aspect from traditional models of job activation is the mental health effect of job loss. I have posted on this here recently and here. The work of Professor Richard Layard in promoting development of policy around unemployment and mental health has been one of the key breakthroughs in this area over the last decade. From what I can see it has gotten not very much attention in Ireland and it would be worth debating this here a lot more with a view to assessing whether some of the ideas should be implemented.
(vi) More generally, a lot of knowledge gaps exist including basic profiles of the unemployed in Ireland such as their processes of job search. While basic profiling has been taking place, there is not a well-developed model of job search such as could be constructed from the DWP job search study. We also know very little about interlinkages between debt, housing and unemployment though the central bank research is improving the situation in this regard. In general, the data available to study job search in Ireland could be improved substantially with more engagement between policy and academics.