Spotlight Exclusives

Academics and Policymakers Discuss Strategies to Combat Hurdles to Economic Opportunity

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

Academics and policymakers discussed bipartisan approaches to tackling barriers to economic opportunity on Monday during the Aspen Institute Economic Strategy Group’s forum, “Expanding Economic Opportunity for Americans: Bipartisan Policies to Increase Work, Wages, and Skills.”

During the first session of the day, experts from both the right and the left explained their policy proposals to take on the challenges of housing affordability, rural employment, and wage stagnation.

Joshua Gottlieb, associate professor of economics at the University of British Columbia, made the case for zoning reform in localities, which would ultimately help make housing more affordable in expensive cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York.

He explained that high housing prices deter workers from moving to these and similar cities, which leads to lost productivity and wages.

Gottlieb proposed that states should look at what localities are doing with regard to their zoning laws and push them to use land more efficiently with state-level Minimum Zoning Mandates.

Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, noted that looser zoning restrictions are supported by both Democrats and Republicans, but often are not implemented because they would require “leapfrogging” over local government.

He also added that this supply-side approach would have negligible impact on low-income individuals, and that housing subsidies also are needed to truly make housing affordable.

James Ziliak, Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics and the founding director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, followed up with his proposal to address rural unemployment.

He emphasized that though the economy currently appears to be in a good state, the situation is very different in rural communities, where college-educated men have not seen any increase in their wages over time. “The big push toward tech…hasn’t affected rural America,” Ziliak said.

His policy proposal is two-fold, including suggestions on how to bring people to jobs and how to bring jobs to people.

In order to bring people to jobs, Ziliak suggests implementing a relocation assistance program to help move qualified individuals to job opportunities in new locations. He also advocates for a commuter credit to help defray the cost of traveling to and from work.

In order to bring jobs to people, he said one of the most important policies is the expansion of rural broadband, which would not only help bring more jobs to rural communities, but also give people the opportunity to telework.

David Neumark, the Chancellor’s Professor of Economics at the University of California, Irvine, followed up with his proposal on how to combat wage stagnation.

While he acknowledged that higher minimum wages are popular with both voters and politicians, he warned that they also can have adverse effects that policy makers must grapple with.

Neumark suggested implementing a Higher Wages Tax Credit that would help to offset the minimum wage increase by sharing the cost of increased wages with both employers and taxpayers.

“The tax credit would build in a recognition this [higher minimum wage] is like any other redistributionist policy,” he said.

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