All budget proposals should be evaluated first and foremost by how they address the most important problems facing the nation. Today that problem is joblessness. Unemployment is still elevated at 8.3 percent, the highest in a generation, while the average duration of unemployment is still at peak levels (about 40 weeks). Poverty rates for young children (under the age of 6) are at their highest recorded levels, while the number of households in extreme poverty (earning incomes of less than $2 per day) has doubled since the mid-1990s. Although the economy has added 735,000 jobs in the last three months, even at this rate it would still take five years before the labor market fully recovered. In short, any policy that fails to address job creation—or at least fails to extend the economic provisions that we’ve already put in place—should be rejected.
Paul Ryan’s latest budget doesn’t just fail to address job creation, it aggressively slows job growth. Against a current policy baseline, the budget cuts discretionary programs by about $120 billion over the next two years and mandatory programs by $284 billion, sucking demand out of the economy when it most needs it and leading to job loss. Using a standard macroeconomic model that is consistent with that used by private- and public-sector forecasters, the shock to aggregate demand from near-term spending cuts would result in roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014.
Of course, this leaves out taxes. Ryan’s proposal involves cutting taxes on corporations, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, maintaining the Bush tax cuts and preferential rates on capital gains and dividends, and consolidating the rate structure into two brackets, 10 percent and 25 percent. He says he’ll pay for these tax cuts (excluding the Bush tax cuts, which are already currently in effect) by eliminating tax expenditures, so it won’t result in revenue loss.
Now, temporary tax cuts can create jobs because they pump more money into the economy and boost consumer and business spending. The payroll tax holiday is one such example. But the fact that Ryan’s tax proposal won’t change net revenue levels in the near-term means that its economic effects will be minimal – and it will certainly not materially offset the job declines stemming from spending cuts. Worse, the composition of Ryan’s tax-shift means that it will likely result in a small job loss because it shifts the tax burden from high-earners to middle-class households. Low-income households will also face higher taxes because Ryan would allow certain tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit to fall from their current levels. Redistributing money away from people who spend more of each marginal dollar of disposable income (low- and moderate-income households) to those with much higher savings rates (high-income households) is broadly recognized as leading to a decline in aggregate demand.