The No. 1 issue facing the country is unemployment.
President Obama and Congress have been too slow to recognize that fact and to act upon it.
But that seems to be changing — now that the official jobless rate has spiked to 10.2 percent.
On Tuesday, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told the Senate Democratic Caucus that legislation to promote the creation of new jobs must become a top priority.
On Thursday, Obama made his move, announcing that a White House on jobs and economic growth will be held in December.
“We all know that there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times. But we have an obligation to consider every additional, responsible step that we can [take] to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country,” says Obama. “And that’s why, in December, we’ll be holding a forum at the White House on jobs and economic growth. We’ll gather CEOs and small business owners, economists and financial experts, as well as representatives from labor unions and nonprofit groups, to talk about how we can work together to create jobs and get this economy moving again.”
If the forum is realistic — and honest about the challenge that double-digit unemployment pose to the country in general and in particular to communities where the jobless rate far exceeds 10.2 percent — the summit will conclude that major new initiatives are needed.
What kind of initiative? The Roosevelt Institute has some great ideas, which are being highlighted at the institute’s New Deal 2.0 site.
But the key idea its that the federal response must be far bolder than the tepid stimulus package passed earlier this year by the Congress and signed by a new and well-intentioned president who, unfortunately, seemed to be a little too determined to get on to the next task.
There is now a greater urgency to act than there was at the time when the initial package was being discussed.
With unemployment now in the double digits, and at the highest rate in more than a quarter century, it is clear that bold steps — passage of a fully-funded and ambitious transportation infrastructure bill; allocation of additional funds for hard-pressed states, cities and school systems; establishment of new trade policies; perhaps the development of schemes to reward businesses that start hiring; perhaps the development of a 21st-century variation on the Civilian Conservation Corps and other New deal programs — must be launched quickly if they are going to shape a recovery that works not just for Wall Street but for Main Street.
As Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who has been arguing for months: “While our nation faces serious challenges at home and abroad, creating jobs in this down economy must be a top priority.”
Feingold’s got specific asks for the summit.
For instance, the Democratic senator says, “I very much hope the temporary jobs tax credit I am developing will be considered by those attending the jobs summit. While there’s no easy way to solve the unemployment problem, the jobs tax credit would be a targeted and responsible tool to help businesses hire workers and bring down unemployment.”
Obama has been too slow to get ahead of this issue, which ultimately poses social, economic and political challenges for his administration.
But his statement Thursday was a good one, especially the part where he said:
Millions of Americans — our friends, our neighbors, our family members — are desperately searching for jobs. This is one of the great challenges that remains in our economy — a challenge that my administration is absolutely determined to meet.
That determination must be linked to a sense of urgency.
The December summit is a fine response
But neither the administration nor members of Congress should wait until December to start moving on the development of the legislation — and the funding schemes — that will pay for a serious new commitment by the president and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to job creation and retention their highest priority.
If the administration pulls its punches on this one, working families and communities across the United States will suffer even harder hits than they already have.
And their response to that suffering — as the results from the 2009 off-year elections remind us — will be the rejection of Democrats who are seen as insufficiently committed to getting America back to work by making the necessary investments to create a high-employment, high-wage economy for the 21st century.
Andrew Rich, the president of the Roosevelt Institute offers an appropriate historical note with regard to focus and urgency.
“FDR knew that a recovery without jobs was not a recovery at all – but that same determination to create jobs for Americans who need them seems missing in the response to today’s crisis,” argues Rich. “The Roosevelts understood that work brought a kind of basic dignity to people during hard times, and they carried out those values in the policies they implemented.”
Barack Obama must borrow a page from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and make his a job-creation presidency.