Trade Adjustment Assistance Ineffective (Not that the DoL Appears to Care)

A new paper released today by David B. Muhlhausen at the Heritage Foundation draws attention to yet another study (from August 2012) commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor that throws ice-cold water on the notion that the Trade Adjustment Assistance program is particularly effective at helping workers displaced by competition from imports.  In fact, TAA assisted workers earned less than comparable non-TAA workers, according to the report.

I’d like more details on the methodology of the August 2012 report; for example, more information about the “wide array of observable baseline measures” that the study controls for. I suspect that the controls include education and age, but I would have thought that the study’s authors would want to address clearly and explicitly the argument frequently given by supporters of TAA that trade-affected workers are older and less educated than the average laid-off worker, and thus it is unfair to compare prospects. So I would like to know more before fully endorsing the study’s findings.

It’s a good thing that Dr Muhlhausen drew our attention to this study, by the way, because it is not particularly easy to find on the DoL’s dedicated TAA website. It is not listed on the publications page for the TAA program (although it is listed on the broader Employment and Training Administration publications list). You’d think that the DoL would want to publicize it more heavily, given they commissioned and paid for it and all, and especially given that the TAA program is due to expire in December and is on the legislative agenda of prominent U.S. senators. But the DoL has some form in burying research: there is also, according to the Heritage Foundation article, a mysterious 2010 evaluation of TAA that has not yet been released to the public. And a December 2012 study that found a net cost to society from the program is also missing from the TAA website (along with any publications after 2012). Time for an update, DoL webmaster?

Of course, even if TAA were the most effective program in the world, it doesn’t necessarily follow that providing it is an appropriate role for the federal government and it in any case rests on dubious moral foundations. I agree with the Heritage Foundation on this one: let TAA expire.