Quality work on the fringes

Safety net

Better labor markets can run a social safety net based on data and tools that are not otherwise viable. Transparency, lowest administration costs, and verified outcomes data should increase public support for assistance.

 

Reducing safety net load

Current assumptions about welfare and insurance are typically based on an institutional view of the economy: Employers hire people for 40 hours a week, unions protect workers from exploitation, and government takes care of those who can’t find employment. That industrial-era view is falling apart for many citizens. More and more people are earning from multiple sources.

A CEDAH (Central Database of Available Hours) is geared for this kind of economy. Imagine an Iowan working as a tractor driver, bricklayer, public road repairer, and traffic warden while also fixing engines. He will generate personalized data in each of those markets. That can be compared with aggregate data for those sectors, and others.

Using this data, an advanced  CEDAH will constantly emit market signals that help its users stay out of the safety net. Our Iowan’s brother may wake one morning to a sudden announcement the factory that has employed him full-time for 10 years is shuttering.

The CEDAH user is more likely to wake to an alert that he could now profitably add solar panel installation to his types of work. The notification might tell him there’s a skills shortage locally with high pay resulting, he has 80% of the certification needed and tractor driving, where he gets 40% of his income, is heading for over-supply locally. He can constantly, subtly, respond to shifts like this long before they deposit him on welfare.

At a personal level, if our Iowan starts to get twinges of back pain, he might tell the CEDAH to chart a path out of bricklaying. Training and certification for house painting, furniture repair, or other less strenuous skills are a click away, along with localized data to inform his thinking and effortless, immediate, market entry. He can put down his hod long before its time to see a surgeon.

 

Improved mechanics for the safety net

Discussion of “efficiency” in social support can be read as a euphemism for cutting welfare. That reflects calcified current debates. Within the right markets, “efficiency” should mean ensuring public funds are robustly managed, and accountably directed in response to scale of need.

A CEDAH can routinely run facilities such as:

  • Palettes of portable benefits: Insurance, vacation pay, and other deductions can be calculated on each hour worked and seamlessly built into the charge paid by a buyer of labor. They are dispersed cent-by-cent to funds afterwards. Crucially, those funds and their individual rules could be offered by a range of providers; unions, financial institutions, government, or co-operatives. The system is granular enough to calculate which funds apply to any given transaction for that worker, what is to be deducted and where it is to be sent afterwards. One person can have multiple, possibly overlapping, benefits packages in force.
  • Early interventions: Subsidized employment, free childcare or retraining; a mature CEDAH will generate data that create business cases for a spectrum of support models. Each can be piloted on a small scale before expanding if the outcomes look good.
  • “Fit-around” upskilling and job interviews: A CEDAH knows the hours when each user is available to work; today, tomorrow or weeks ahead. But few individuals will be booked for 100% of the hours they could work. Unengaged hours can be used for training or job interviews. That allows the person to learn and be exposed to job openings in ways that allow paid work to always be a priority.
  • Automated targeting: If permitted, the CEDAH might proactively offer assistance once certain thresholds were breached by an individual. So, the parents of three children whose earnings this week fell below a specified amount might see a link allowing them to claim additional income. Or Earned Income Tax Credits (negative income tax) might be seamlessly calculated and applied to their accounts. There need be no looking up current thresholds, application processes, or payment delays.

 

Guaranteed Work

A CEDAH makes precision models of subsidized employment uniquely efficient. For example, a city government might set aside $25m a year for park maintenance, graffiti removal, sorting fly tipping, and other entry-level work to be carried out under supervision. This demand for labor is then spent on local people meeting specified criteria.

A school leaver with no job or training might have a right to 12 hours of Guaranteed Work a week at locations around her home. As soon as she starts doing that through the area’s CEDAH, the system will be working to understand her potential, aspirations, and pathways. Raking leaves isn’t glamorous, but if she proves reliability over a few day’s work, the system can start hunting for training in higher level tasks knowing she merits progression.

Guaranteed Work is a low-cost step towards Universal Basic Income or Government Jobs Guarantees. It could be more politically acceptable; well-off citizens won’t do the work, so funds are targeted precisely. There can be no allegation of creating sinecures, just a chance for demonstrably hard-pressed individuals to prove themselves and start ascending a personalized ladder.

 

Support for strugglers

Technology solutions aren’t right for a lot of marginalized people. A CEDAH can be used very effectively to deploy provenly reliable flexible workers who act as a human interface to the labor market. Take a 50-year-old just leaving incarceration. His job center may immediately offer 10 one-hour sessions with a Peer Navigator, a provenly reliable worker in the CEDAH who is part of a pool of 50 that has been inducted into supporting labor market entry through the system.

The system then matches anyone qualifying for support with a local, compatible, Navigator. In the first hour session, the laid off man might meet his Navigator, of similar age and background, in a café or library. The Navigator has pro-forma reporting to complete to track results. Her training included recognizing when a client might need diverting into specialized medical or social work support.

But if they continue, the Navigator might register the Client on the CEDAH, help him through the vetting process then accompany him on the first three bookings. For an investment of perhaps, $350 including a share of the Navigators’ amortized training costs, the client has started a new way of working in a system that will strive to advance him into pockets of work that fit his interests and abilities. Each inducted Navigator is of course able to do all sorts of other work in the CEDAH.

 

Keeping assistance palatable

Public support for welfare can be tenuous; perceptions of waste, over-softness, or politicized targeting spill over into punitiverules. A CEDAH won’t move entrenched views and it must not supplant decisions by elected officials. But it can justify expenditure by administering a sophisticated welfare regime transparently, at very low cost, and with constant data to underpin allocations.

So, as one example, it can include conditionality. Where a person is able to work, welfare rules might mandate that they make reasonable attempts to find employment. That could include having a CEDAH account and setting controls that are commensurate with norms for similar individuals.

Assume an able bodied, 25-year-old qualifies for support payments if he listed at least 30 hours of availability for work in the preceding week and was willing to travel up to 5 miles with a minimum two hours’ notice for any assignment, or job interview, for which he qualified. He is then allowed to reject only 10% of such bookings that the system finds for him, possibly tapping into Guaranteed Work pools (above).

Conditionality of benefits is a politicized issue. The CEDAH is not part of that debate. If elected officials legislate for conditionality, a CEDAH can enforce it. But this can be done neutrally, supportively, and more humanely, than many current attempts.

 

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