Can We Create Enough Jobs?

I opined yesterday about the possibility that the USA will become a country of McWorkers. And even my gratuitous reference to Pippa didn’t create a firestorm among readers. Maybe we’ve given up on the notion of significantly reducing unemployment. And maybe we can’t create enough jobs — especially ones that provide some measure of security, benefits and adequate pay.

This just isn’t the early morning rant of a pajama-clad citizen journalist. Two writers with big megaphones — Arianna Huffington and Katrina Vanden Heuvel — shouted about the same issue in separate opinion pieces yesterday and this morning.

Here’s from Heuvel’s WaPo article, “Why aren’t the powers that be tackling the job crisis?“:

Washington is the only city in America where housing values are going up. That may help explain why the political class is so divorced from the nation’s agonies. Sure, the entire nation celebrated the dispatch of Osama bin Laden, but when it comes to the economy, the Beltway is a world unto itself.

Two years from the official beginning of the “recovery,” America continues to suffer a deep and punishing jobs crisis. One in six Americans of working age is unemployed or underemployed. College students, laden with record levels of debt, are graduating into the worst jobs market since the Great Depression. Long-term unemployment is at unprecedented levels. At current rates of job growth, we won’t return to pre-recession employment levels until 2016. And the jobs that are being created — largely in the service industry — tend to have lower pay and benefits than the jobs that were lost.

Then she criticizes leaders in both parties — Republicans first but with the Democrats taking a turn at bat as well — for doing just about everything but advancing realistic proposals to create jobs.

As Ezra Klein of The Washington Post noted, it is a measure of Washington’s remove from the country that the two plans were unveiled by the two bodies with the least power to make anything happen — the minority House Democrats and the minority Senate Republicans. Those who do have the power — the White House, the House Republican majority and the Senate Democratic majority — remain silent about jobs. Instead, they are locked in a macabre dance to the death on deficits — oblivious to the human casualties caused by mass unemployment.

This might be diversionary, at best, were America not in such dire straits. Home values are falling again. Wages aren’t keeping up with prices. States and cities are laying off more employees. The trade deficit is rising, despite the lower dollar. Masked by the statistic of 9 percent unemployment are 25 million people in need of full time work. Mass unemployment, particularly in a society like ours with such a limited safety net, is a tale of misery, one that resounds across the country and goes virtually unheard in our capital. Americans think Washington isn’t listening — and they are right.

Next up, Arianna Huffington, writing “If American Can Do Whatever We Set Our Mind To, How Come Our Leaders Won’t Set Their Minds On Jobs?

“We do big things,” President Obama said during his State of the Union speech in January. And, in fact, we do. Sometimes. Finding and dispatching Osama bin Laden certainly qualifies. “We are once again reminded,” the president said after announcing the terrorist’s death, “that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”

But if that’s true, why are our leaders so accepting of a stagnant economy? If they really focused on the havoc it is wreaking on the lives of tens of millions of Americans, they would, in the memorable words of Richard Clarke, be running around with their hair on fire.

But they’re not. Instead, they express concern but resign themselves to the fact that, as White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee put it in an interview with HuffPost, the economy has “a long way to go.” Meanwhile, we’re being asked to accept years of underemployment, low growth and draconian cuts to America’s social safety nets as the “new normal.” Or, as Bill Clinton put it in a different context, the “tyranny of low expectations.”

It’s a testament to these low expectations of our leaders that we’re supposed to take recent economic figures as some kind of good news. In March, the economy added 216,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell from 8.9 percent to 8.8 percent. Not bad. But not good, either. And if you take a closer look at the numbers, you’ll want to keep that celebratory champagne on ice. Because while adding jobs is obviously better than shedding them, even if we continue to add 200,000 jobs a month, it would take until 2019 to achieve the employment level we had when the recession started. “There are still five unemployed workers per job opening,” Heidi Shierholz, economist with the Economic Policy Institute, told HuffPost, “far worse than the worst month of the early-2000s recession.”

What’s more, much of the downturn in the unemployment rate was actually caused by people giving up and leaving the workforce. As the New York Times noted, participation in the workforce fell to 64.2 percent, the lowest mark in 25 years. If you were to factor those who have stopped looking for work into the official unemployment rate, it would be 9.8 percent. If you were to include those working part-time who would rather be working full-time, it would be 15.7 percent. “Being happy with the falling unemployment rate right now,” said Wells Fargo’s Jeremy Ryan, “would be like being happy that your team won because the other team’s bus broke down on the way to the field.”

And the point?

How are these not hair on fire numbers?

Yet our leaders, who are supposed to be doing big things, seem instead to have made their peace with “the new normal.” Take the Fed: it could be doing a lot more to create jobs, but instead it’s guarding against the phantom bogeyman of inflation. “Why has Mr. Bernanke decided to accept widespread unemployment for years on end, even though he believes he has the power to reduce it?” asked David Leonhardt. “After all, does the economy feel as if it’s on the verge of overheating?” Hardly.

At the New America Foundation’s conference about the Federal Reserve, the Peterson Institute’s Joe Gagnon said that the Fed’s timidity is responsible for the loss of 1 million jobs. “Apparently,” writes Mark Thoma, “the millions and millions of people who are unemployed, some of whom won’t be reemployed until years from now if we do nothing to help, are supposed to be patient because people with power over policy are worried about inflation and higher interest rates.”

Our elected leaders aren’t any better — less focused on the job crisis than on arguing about how to best divvy up harsh cuts to the social safety net and programs that benefit the middle class. Meanwhile, profits for the Fortune 500 jumped by 81 percent in 2010, to $318 billion. Clearly big things aren’t out of reach for everybody.

OK. I know that we have a number of important issues — none with easy answers — that we have to deal with: federal debt and spending, taxes, health care, education, immigration, and the threat to our nation’s security at home and abroad among them.

But I hope the elites Inside the Beltway and elsewhere haven’t given up on the need to create enough jobs to get our country back working again.

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8 responses to “Can We Create Enough Jobs?

  1. burghthoughts

    Since nobody else wants to step up, here’s my job creation program…..
    Instead of looking to give “amnesty” or a “path to citizenship” to the 15,000,000 plus illegal immigrants…oops sorry “undocumented future democate voters” that have already invaded this country, why don’t we send them back to where they came from and give those 15,000,000 jobs to the 15,000,000 unemployed Americans??
    Instant increase in tax revenues, fica revenues, medicare revenues…since the underground economy that these law breakers reside in pay nothing into our system.
    I know, I know, a radical propoal to actually enforce the laws of our country instead of suing Arizona but drastic times call for drastic measures.
    Just a side note: I’ll be at MM 10 with a Primanti’s and a Cold Iron in case you start to waver on Sunday. Good Luck-Have fun!!!!

    • Well, I won’t opine on your jobs proposal — but if in fact Primanti’s is at mile 10 the half marathon may end there under even the best of circumstances.

  2. burghthoughts

    Fair enough…how about this one: Cut corporate tax rates to 25 %; cut capital gains rates to 0 % and give every worker who currently pays taxes (which is only 51 %) a tax “holiday” of one year. Give the people who are trying to drive the economy more money and they will spend it…more tv’s. more refrigerators, more washers, etc. and manufacturers will hire more workers to keep up with demand.
    Would you rather have a cheesesteak or a Capicola and Egg???

    • I do agree with you on this one. We have a spending problem — and the solution is not to raise taxes.

  3. Brian M. Jewell

    Illegal or undocumented “future democratic voters” are not the problem at this point. It has always been trendy throughout American history to point a finger at immigrants during times of economic downturn. But we are a nation who has traditionally opened our doors to those escaping persecution or violence in their own nation and trying to seek a better life in ours. And that is exactly what our neighbors to the south are doing. Things are beyond bad in Mexico right now and only getting worse. I had one of my soccer players come into my room crying this week, telling me about how her dad was shot over the weekend in jaurez. Wouldn’t you try to bring your family out of that kind of situation, whatever the cost or laws you were breaking?

    The fact of the matter is that we are a country that has few middle class job opportunities because we no longer produce anything. Maybe if we would invest in those areas and create middle class work there would once again be enough to go around for everybody, legal or not.

    Just my opinion. I would love a primanti brothers and a cold one as well. Good luck in the race Saturday Dad!

  4. burghthoughts

    I’m not against immigrants Brian just the illegal ones. A nation is defined by laws, borders, language, culture. If we are not willing to enforce our laws and protect our borders we cease to be a nation. Things are beyond bad in places like Syria, Egypt, Libya also but since their countries dont share a border with the US they have to get in line and wait their turn like my great grandparents, your great-great grandparents did in the 1880’s. Illegals are overwhelming the system in border states-overcrowded schools, strained local budgets, dozens and dozens of hospitals that have gone bankrupt and our president’s purely political posturing doesn’t help with a solution. All you need to know about the current border debate is this: if all the illegal’s were expected to vote republican the border would look like the great wall of china.

  5. Brian M. Jewell

    I understand what you are saying, and I agree with you that there are lots of places in the world today that are beyond bad, but I am of the opinion that because of Mexico’s shared border with the United States they should be given a favored position in terms of immigration, or for that matter amnesty. If we have to tighten our “immigration belts” it shouldn’t be with those we have a largely shared culture and border. We should be trying to help them the most.

  6. burghthoughts

    Not to beat a dead horse..watch this video from a recent Tuscon, AZ. school board meeting and tell me if this liberal agenda is someting YOU would teach to 3rd graders in Colorado.. this is what ultimately happens whene your borders disapear:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZzovZasFms&feature=player_embedded
    Watch the faces of the scholr board members as they react in horror that anyone could be so insensitive. I pray that you would not put forth a similar agenda in your classroom. Next time you are in town, lunch is on me!!!!!

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