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The idea of a tax credit for companies that create new jobs, something the federal government has not tried since the 1970s, is gaining support among economists and Washington officials grappling with the highest unemployment in a generation.
The proposal has some bipartisan appeal among politicians eager both to help their unemployed constituents and to encourage small-business development. Legislators on Capitol Hill and President Obama’s economic team have been quietly researching the policy for several weeks.
“There is a lot of traction for this kind of idea,” said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip. “If the White House will take the lead on this, I’m fairly positive it would be welcomed in a bipartisan fashion.”
In addition to the economists working on the proposal, some heavyweights support the concept, including the Nobel laureate Edmund S. Phelps, Dani Rodrik of Harvard and former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich.
One version of the approach, to be unveiled next week by the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research organization, would give employers a two-year tax credit if they increased the size of their work force or added significant hours of work (for example, making a part-time worker full time). Employers would receive a credit worth twice the first-year payroll tax for each new hire, amounting to several thousand dollars, depending on the new worker’s salary.
“It’s beautiful if it can be timed at a dire moment like this, when unemployment is way too high and appears to be going somewhat higher,” said Mr. Phelps, an economics professor at Columbia, lamenting that the president dropped it from the $787 billion stimulus plan approved in February. “But it’s a pity that this wasn’t done a year ago.”
One of a number of ideas being discussed, the policy is intended to encourage companies to start hiring again by making it cheaper to add new workers. It has raised concerns, though, that employers might try to exploit the system.
States have dabbled with similar tax credits in recent years, with mixed results. The federal government last tried this measure in 1977-78. During that period, employment — which had been soft from the 1973-75 recession — climbed at a record pace. The creation of one out of three jobs that was awarded the credit then was attributed directly to the policy. But the permanence of those jobs was less clear, and some dispute how many of those positions would have been created eventually anyway.