The Jobs Solution | The Nation


The Jobs Solution

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About the Author

Donald W. Riegle Jr.
Former Michigan Senator Donald W. Riegle Jr., a member of the Smart Globalization Initiative and chair of government...
Leo Hindery Jr.
Leo Hindery Jr., chair of the Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and an investor in media...

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The solution to the jobs crisis depends on manufacturing and trade policy reform.

All we really know about the financial industry bailouts and the economic stimulus plan are their enormous potential costs: at least $2 trillion combined, which is likely to balloon to $3 trillion or even $4 trillion, plus additional trillions of costly credit from the Federal Reserve, with very uncertain payback.

However, what is most immediately alarming about the bailouts and the $787 billion stimulus package are the daily indications that they still fall woefully short--in dollars and particularly in focus--of what is needed to confront the emergency economic conditions we face. And emergency conditions they are, with the US economy having contracted at an almost unbelievable annualized rate of 6.3 percent in the last three months of 2008, a terrible quarterly performance rivaled only four times since the Great Depression.

The nation is fairly resigned to the costly bailouts, but the stimulus plan is still not close to right: too small by at least half, not nearly timely enough in some of its spend-out rates and too underperforming against the only measure that really counts.

The plan's composition drastically overemphasizes small one-time individual tax cuts ($233 billion) and non-jobs-related spending ($261 billion). But causing most concern is that the 3.6 million jobs the plan is supposed to create or, mostly, just save over the next two years are not nearly as many as they seem to be. This number is less than the 4 million or so additional jobs expected to be lost in the next year (which will only go up if GM and Chrysler are forced into bankruptcy), and it doesn't even equal the number of jobs America needs to create just to stay even with population growth.

America's Human Capital

The right way to earn our way back to long-term prosperity is through stimulus efforts that will help develop, broadly deploy, fairly compensate and, especially, fully employ our human capital, which will always be our greatest source of national wealth. Only then will we have refired the commercial engines needed to recover from this dismal recession. And only then will we have addressed Americans' belief that unemployment is by far, with no close second, the most important economic issue facing the country.

We need an all-encompassing strategy on the massive scale we used at Normandy to win the war in Europe and that we later had behind the sweeping Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe's broken economies. This time, however, our big-thinking strategy must be about creating the 24 million jobs that are missing so that American workers will be nearly fully employed.

We cannot accomplish this simply by pouring unlimited borrowed money into our economy on the flawed and unfair premise that it will "trickle down" to where it is needed. This is true whether the money is given to high-income individuals, as Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush did, or distributed in the form of massive bailouts to the big banks and Wall Street firms, as is happening now, with the hope (but not at all the promise) that these bailouts will lead to economy-enriching loans.

There are 12.5 million officially unemployed workers, and America's nominal unemployment rate is 8.1 percent. But these numbers tell less than half of an already dismal story that just keeps getting worse, with record increases in the number of Americans claiming unemployment and the highest number of officially unemployed workers on records dating back to 1967. When we more accurately and honestly include the 10.7 million workers who are underemployed--either part-time of necessity (8.6 million) or otherwise marginally attached (2.1 million)--and the 3.7 million who are in the "labor force reserve" (because they have abandoned their job search), then the unemployment rate rises to a staggering 16.7 percent.

In all, there are 26.9 million unemployed Americans, who have little or no financial safety net--and, sadly, there are several million more to come. With only 3 million job openings, mostly at the entry level, we cannot be at all surprised that our food kitchens are serving millions of people, our homeless shelters are filled to capacity and Hooverville-type tent cities are cropping up in every region of the country.

Only by finding these millions of missing jobs and realizing their enormous overall "multiplier effects"--every new job indirectly benefits the economy beyond the direct benefits of employment--can we recapture our living standards and continue to project our values and leadership around the world. And only with near-full employment and with a much reinvigorated manufacturing sector can we produce enough wealth to pay off our new debts plus Bush's massive $11 trillion debt legacy.

In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt said that the nation's greatest task was "to put people to work." This same task falls on the shoulders of President Obama and this Congress. We believe that in the inevitable second round of economic stimulus, Obama and Congress should put nearly 100 percent of the monies toward creating immediately identifiable long-term, high-value, future-oriented jobs.

This emphasis should have dominated the just-enacted stimulus plan, but it didn't, and now even more millions of Americans urgently need jobs with wages and salaries that can support their basic needs and those of their families.

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