Solving the Jobs Problem – A New Kind of Unemployment Benefit

Solving the Jobs Problem – A New Kind of Unemployment Benefit

In midst of an unprecedented challenge in jobs situation in our country and in honor of Labor Day, let’s all come together to start a discussion on new ways to fix our persistent unemployment problem and boost our stagnating economy. As a small business owner, whose business is to put people back to work, I’d like to propose a new kind of unemployment benefit that can put jobless workers back to work sooner and help businesses grow to create more jobs.

Government’s Pain

The US economy has lost 7.7 million jobs during this recession.  Our government has thus far paid out $671 billion[1] of the total $787 billion stimulus package in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, attempting to trigger economic growth and job creation.  A big part of the stimulus spending, specifically $65 billion to Department of Labor[2], has been devoted to update the skills of workers to meet the needs of today’s businesses.

On top of the $787 billion ARRA spending, the federal government is spending $134 billion this year[3] in unemployment benefits payments, helping million of jobless workers maintain a living.  Even with two unemployment benefits extensions and coverage of up to 99 weeks, hundreds of thousands of the unemployed will soon reach the end of the rope.  It’s a ticking time bomb for the social safety net.

Faced with its own fiscal stress, our government’s big spending so far has yet to pay off in either fostering economic recovery or creating jobs.  It’s time for something new.

The Pain of the Unemployed

Workers that were laid off from their jobs in shrinking industries are eager to update their skills to those  needed in today’s market.  Their only current option is applying for a job retraining grant to attend programs at technical schools, community colleges or for-profit colleges.

In many cases, these training programs and degrees do little to increase their students’ value in the job market.  There is often a gap between the true business needs and these programs.  In addition, real-world experience is more valuable to employers than classroom experience.

The worst part is that many people go into debt, even after government subsidies, to afford these programs.  When they finish these programs and often still find themselves struggling to land a job, not only have they not improved their job prospect, they are in much worse financial situation.

The Pain of the Businesses

Businesses are extremely cautious about hiring right now, given the uncertainty of the economy.  Based on studies by organizations like Small Business Administration and Kauffman Foundation, young businesses create most new jobs in any economy.  But, currently most young businesses are cash-strapped, hindering their ability to create jobs.

Today, early stage small businesses have little access to the capital they need for growth.  Loans are particularly difficult to get for companies in startup stage.  These companies often have much work that needs to be done before making money, but have no money to hire people.

The Solution – Turn Unemployment Benefit into Practical Training Stipend

There is a way to for our government to retrain workers AND invest in businesses without needing any new spending.  I’m proposing that our government take current unemployment benefit money and change it to a stipend for practical training.

Businesses, particular small- to medium-sized businesses, would be given yearly “practical training” headcount quota.  This quota could be calculated based on the company’s revenue.  The lower the revenue, the bigger the headcount.  Businesses would be given headcount quota, not money, by the government.

Unemployed workers would receive this “practical training” stipend, instead of their current unemployment benefits, directly from the government.  In order to receive their practical training stipend, people need to apply to and get accepted to practical training work opportunities offered by businesses.

This way, businesses can get human resource investment in exchange for giving jobless workers on the job training.  Businesses need to woo the unemployed to work for them and, therefore, will create practical training opportunities that will give these workers desirable experience and help them build marketable skills.  With this form of “human resource” investment, businesses can grow without needing as much capital.  This leads to business growth and job creation.

As with the current unemployment benefit, the practical training stipend would be significantly lower than income from their regular jobs.  These workers would be motivated to soak up skills and build real world experience.  They would want to make themselves marketable and move on into a permanent job as quickly as possible.

This proposed solution is to turn the current spending on unemployment benefit into a new form of investment in businesses.  The businesses community, in turn, would contribute to updating the skills of the unemployed workforce.  Jobless workers would still receive financial support from our government while gaining real-world practical experience.  This new kind of cooperation among the government, businesses and the workforce is much more likely to stimulate a quick economic recovery.

Let’s start this kind of win-win-win thinking and work together toward our common prosperity.


To summarize, here is a comparison of the current unemployment benefits system vs. the proposed “practical training stipend”.

Old – Unemployment Benefit New – Practical Training Stipend
  • 14.6 million people cannot participate in the workforce while collecting unemployment checks
  • 14.6 million workers can contribute to the workforce while collecting practical training stipend
  • The unemployed are not getting up-to-date job skills
  • Businesses train the unemployed in skills that are needed by today’s market
  • No way to gain real-world experience
  • Practical training gives the unemployed real-world experience
  • The jobless fall into the downward spiral of the chronic unemployment and dated job skills
  • The unemployed get off unemployment sooner
  • Businesses have little access to capital to grow
  • Businesses receive “human resource” investment
  • Businesses grow faster and create more jobs


Call to Action

I’m not an economist or a public policy maker.  This solution may very well be far from perfect.   Its purpose is to serve as a starting point for a new conversation and a plan to put our economy on the right track.  I hope you will share your thoughts, poke holes at this or propose a different solution.

Please join me.  Together, we can make a difference!

[1] home page (data updated on 8/19/2011)

[2], Agency Reported Data, Dept of Labor (updated on 8/19/2011)



Spread the love

5 thoughts on “Solving the Jobs Problem – A New Kind of Unemployment Benefit

  1. This approach can only work if it is permanent.
    Business has already told us nothing temporary works for them, it creates too much UNCERTAINTY.

    California has a paid-training system but so many businesses cheated, they kept adding rules until nobody wants to use it now. Any government program brings out the worst kinds of fraud along with some real benefit. Regulations have to be enforced, monitored and that drains off the money.

    If a permanent system were set up, regulated and montored by each state’s Attorney’s General perhaps that could work? But check with California first.

  2. We received an email from Prof. Fred V. Carstensen of University of Connecticut, who pointed out –

    “I am concerned that you are repeating two very common but very important errors. First, the federal stimulus did work, exactly as anticipated. BUT it was entirely offset by cuts in state and local budgets. So we didn’t “see” any benefit because of other factors–state and local cuts–NOT because the federal stimulus didn’t work. The data and research are readily available.

    Second, it is not the case the small businesses are the primary job creators. You correctly say “young” businesses–by which you mean those over five years of operation. Years two to five see a net loss of jobs by companies in that age cohort. Moreover, some of those “young” companies are very very large (e.g. Google). Your writing seems to suggest that it is small business, not just young business, that plays the lead role.”

    We’d like to share these clarifications and corrections with our readers.

    Thanks for your comment, Prof. Fred V. Carstensen.

Leave a Reply