Transcript: Q&A w/ Rep. Tony Cardenas on the CBO’s 2014 budget & economic outlook

Partial transcript of Q&A with Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California) on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014 federal budget and economic outlook. The House Budget Committee hearing was held on Feb. 5, 2014:

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
…Let me set up where I’m going here so that you can understand what my question. Today, unemployed Americans continue to struggle seeking a job that will support their family and give them a chance to earn their share of the American dream. The American worker doesn’t want a handout.

I don’t believe the American worker wants a handout; I think they want to work. They want to earn a paycheck, and I think we must come together and remove the barriers and promote full-time employment.

While long-term unemployment is a national problem, it doesn’t fall evenly across our United States. Huge disparities exist in unemployment rates from heavily impacted states and those with lower unemployment rates.

How would the unemployment rate be impacted by providing long-term unemployed workers with a lump sum unemployment benefit to help cover moving costs so that workers can move from one area of high unemployment and perhaps to another area of low unemployment rates in order to accept employment that would require them to move?

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
So Congressman, I’m afraid we’ve not had an opportunity to analyze that proposal. It’s a very interesting one, and it might well have beneficial effects. But we would need to sit down and spend some time trying to think that through for me to give you a very useful answer, I’m afraid.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
But does the data bear out that in some areas of America today, a snapshot of it is that employment opportunities are much greater in certain regions or states where in other states unemployment is higher than other regions?

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
That’s absolutely right. Labor market is very tight in some places and very poor in others. Historically, part of what has helped to bring the labor market back to a better place after previous downturns has been mobility of people, and there’s evidence that mobility of Americans has actually declined over time which may be an aggravating factor. But we haven’t tried to think through how a particular policy might be able to address that.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
So you don’t have any analysis that indicates that perhaps one of the factors is the lack of resources to make that move? I mean, the average person that ever moved knows that it costs more to move across town or across to another state or another region than it would just to drive back and forth to work. I mean, there are impeding financial factors that say, “If I don’t have first and last to get another rental place for my family” and what have you, there are expenditures in the move.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
Yes, that’s certainly true, Congressman, and that logic sounds right to me. Analyzing economic policy is complicated. I try not to do it on the fly just sitting here without the benefit of the expertise of my colleagues…

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
It would be helpful for us to look at that because as you seem to agree that it’s logical that perhaps that is a factor but you probably have to analyze it in order for you to dispense that.

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
Yes, that’s right.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
But if in fact we’ve figured out a way to help people mobilize from one region or one state, for example, to another one where they have a much higher likelihood of finding employment just because of the simple fact that they’re looking for employees there and they have a much lower unemployment rate, if we figured out a way to do that, would that help the economy?

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
Yes, that would, Congressman.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
Now that would help the economy, is it just overly logical to assume that if somebody gets off of the unemployment rolls and into the taxpaying working role, that helps the economy?

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office:
It certainly helps the budget if we get people to jobs where they can earn money and can pay taxes on it. The one thing that I want to emphasize is despite the differences across regions, as you understand, taking the country as a whole there are significantly fewer jobs than there are people who want them. So moving people to where there are more jobs can help but in any case however effective that could be by itself, it won’t solve the whole problem because the country just right now there’s less demand for business services than we have the ability to produce them and that’s weakened the demand for workers by businesses across the country.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-California):
Sure, there’s the bigger picture. But if I’m a parent, who’s trying to feed my family, and I’m sick and tired of getting an unemployment check and I really want to work and have that dignity of work like many Americans I believe do, to that person, their bigger picture is their picture. Here I’m living in the city or county where I grew up, I finally have the guts to go ahead and say, “I’m hearing where my cousins live that they’re hiring, and I’m qualified for that job. All I got to be able to do is move my family over there and I can get that employment.” To me, that’s a big enough picture for us to concentrate on that kind of efforts so that we can actually hopefully make policies that can improve that family…

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