The pursuit of economic opportunity for all Americans is as important to the health of the country’s economy as it is to the strength of its democracy. The promise that hard work and determination will yield economic success is a central American ideal, but it has been called into question as secular economic forces and institutional changes have reshaped the American economy and had an uneven impact on Americans’ ability to prosper.
A national debate about the strength and fairness of American capitalism is taking place against a backdrop of vast levels of income and wealth inequality, growing pessimism about the state of economic opportunity and mobility, increased market concentration in many sectors, and a precarious fiscal situation.
Professor Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth College asserts that claims about a vanishing middle class are not well-founded. The real challenges, he argues, are the rapidly changing nature of work and the skills demanded in the labor market; the unequal distribution of income growth in the United States in which median income and consumption are growing less quickly than the economy as a whole; and the deterioration of happiness and mental health indicators.
In this chapter, author David Neumark proposes a Higher Wages Tax Credit (HWTC) to partially offset the costs imposed by minimum wage increases on firms that employ low-skilled labor. Following a minimum wage increase, the HWTC would provide a tax credit of 50% of the difference between the prior minimum wage and the new minimum wage, for each hour of labor employed; the credit would phase out at wages higher than the minimum wage, and as wage inflation erodes the real cost of higher nominal minimum wages.
Kearney and Mogstad argue that, in practice, a UBI would be an extremely expensive, inefficiently targeted, and potentially harmful policy that would solve none of the economic challenges it purports to address.
In order to stimulate employment in rural areas, author James P. Ziliak proposes a two-fold strategy of bringing “people to jobs” and “jobs to people,” an approach that combines people-based and place-based policies. The people-based policies include relocation assistance payments for those willing to make a permanent move to a new job, as well as a short- term credit for commuting expenses tied to a new job without residential relocation.
Incarceration rates in the United States have more than tripled in recent decades as rehabilitation has gradually taken a back seat to a policy agenda emphasizing punishment and incapacitation. This raises important questions about the effectiveness of state and federal prisons in the United States, and about whether the resources required for long prison sentences would be better spent improving prison conditions and expanding rehabilitation programs.
Timothy Bartik of the W.E. UpJohn Institute argues that large and persistent differences in employment rates across U.S. places highlight the need for local economic development policies to better promote cost-effective job creation in distressed areas.