Free Enterprise

Out of Work But Optimistic

The conversation about the future of work has largely overlooked a critical aspect: what to do with workers who find themselves unemployed. Between 2020 and 2022, this issue receded into the background amidst record low unemployment and a booming economy.

But 2023 has ushered in a different story, with tech giants like Amazon, Meta, Google, and others leading a wave of job cuts, showing no signs of stopping even as we approach the year’s end.

With the looming shadow of AI-induced job displacement, it’s high time for a proactive dialogue, one that’s perhaps overdue.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, talks in a conference room at his new company NeXt, Inc., in Redwood City, Ca., in April, 1993. (AP Photo)

Consider Steve Jobs: post-Apple, he founded NeXt, a venture later acquired by Apple. But imagine a world where Jobs, without his Apple fortune, had to settle for a middle-management role at a conventional corporation like IBM — “Big Blue.” What a potential loss of innovation.

That’s the predicament facing many talented individuals in tech this year — developers, software engineers, marketing professionals. But what if there was an alternative path?

What if states could facilitate the birth of new Wozniaks, nurturing innovation rather than confining talent to corporate cubicles?

The Impact of Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Programs

An ideal scenario would see states supporting tech talent in starting their own companies. It’s a strategy that could create jobs, boost economic activity, and draw tech talent. For these tech entrepreneurs, such support could be the catalyst to venture independently and showcase their capabilities.

Enter the concept of Self-Employment Assistance (SEA), a solution some states have been experimenting with for decades. Bolstered by federal funding, SEA is a variant of standard unemployment assistance. However, instead of job hunting, individuals create their own employment — and not just for themselves. 

According to studies commissioned by the Department of Labor going back as far as 1998, SEA participants often generate jobs, both by hiring employees and by stimulating economic demand that leads other businesses to expand their workforce.

These programs frequently attract high-skill, well-educated professionals with substantial experience. If you’ve ever tried coding a website or developing an app, you know the kind of talent we’re talking about.

Unleashing Tech Talent and Innovation in Unemployment

However, existing SEA programs have faced challenges, contributing to low participation rates. These low rates are less a reflection of the program’s utility and more about the cumbersome nature of state-level profiling and federal grant restrictions for applicants.

A reformation, focusing on easing these restrictions while preserving the core elements of SEA programs, could provide a significant safety net during economic downturns. It’s a chance to harness the potential of laid-off tech workers, turning a period of uncertainty into an opportunity for growth and innovation.

The story of tech layoffs in 2023 isn’t just about job loss; it’s an opportunity to rethink our approach to unemployment and innovation. By supporting and empowering those impacted to start their own ventures, we not only aid individual careers but also foster a more dynamic, resilient economy.