Why No Urgency About Jobs and Unemployment?

Hurricane Irene sure got the attention of elected officials and sparked some immediate — and beneficial — action: mandatory evacuations, mobilizing emergency crews and so on. Too bad there has not been a similar response to the big problems of creating enough quality jobs and getting people back to work.

After a spring and summer of disappointing — at best — economic news and employment stats, Prez O is now post-holiday at work on a “jobs plan.” But an article in WaPo suggests that the plan is still evolving and specifics are still being considered by the White House policy wonks and other miscreants. Here’s from the WaPo story “Princeton economist tapped to head Council of Economic Advisers“:

The White House scrambled Monday to finalize a new jobs initiative as President Obama nominated the last member of the economic team that will be charged with carrying it out.

In tapping Alan Krueger, a Princeton University professor and noted labor expert, to be chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Obama turned to an economist who officials said was well suited to guide the White House through a jobs crisis.

Obama, standing with Krueger in the Rose Garden on Monday, said he intended to reveal the much-anticipated new jobs agenda in a speech next week.

That address, coming at the end of a summer of worsening economic news and sagging poll numbers for the president, is shaping up as a pivotal moment as Obama tries to resuscitate his presidency with less than 15 months before he stands for reelection.

And yet, behind the scenes Obama and top aides had yet to reach agreement on the major tenets of that plan, and it remained unclear whether the president was looking for narrower ideas with a realistic chance of passing the Republican-led House or more sweeping stimulus proposals that would excite his liberal base and draw contrasts with the GOP.

Call me an asshat but, ah, why has it taken so long for the Prez and members of the administration to come up with a specific plan?

Here’s an interesting perspective from Nicholas Kristof, opining in the NYT, “Did We Drop the Ball on Unemployment?

WHEN I’m in New York or Washington, people talk passionately about debt and political battles. But in the living rooms or on the front porches here in Yamhill, Ore., where I grew up, a different specter wakes friends up in the middle of the night.

It’s unemployment.

I’ve spent a chunk of summer vacation visiting old friends here, and I can’t help feeling that national politicians and national journalists alike have dropped the ball on jobs. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed — that’s more than 16 percent of the work force — but jobs haven’t been nearly high enough on the national agenda.

When Americans are polled about the issue they care most about, the answer by a two-to-one margin is jobs. The Boston Globe found that during President Obama’s Twitter “town hall” last month, the issue that the public most wanted to ask about was, by far, jobs. Yet during the previous two weeks of White House news briefings, reporters were far more likely to ask about political warfare with Republicans.

And the point:

Unless more people are working, paying taxes and making mortgage payments, it’s difficult to see how we revive the economy or address our long-term debt challenge. While debt is a legitimate long-term problem, the urgent priority should be getting people back to work. America now has more than four unemployed people for each opening. And the longer people are out of work, the less likely it is that they will ever work again.

We may not officially be in a recession, but for many people outside the power alleys of New York and DC it sure feels like it. Try to buy or sell a house lately? If you are out of work, how optimistic are you about finding one? If you believe your job is shaky, how likely is it that you are going to buy anything beyond what is absolutely necessary?

I’m never quite sure that people who live and work inside the bubble of DC understand that. Clearly there are thousands in DC who struggle economically and socially. But equally clearly, for the elite who make and influence policy and those who work for the government or for firms such as the large defense contractors, DC is a world untouched by the realities that face the rest of the country.

Here’s an interesting perspective from Catherine Rampell in the NYT, “Why Washington Really Likes Itself“:

IF it sometimes seems as if Washington exists in a totally different economic universe from the rest of us, rest assured: it does. According to Gallup, the District of Columbia is the most economically optimistic part of the country.

Every day, the polling organization surveys Americans of all income levels about whether they think current economic conditions are good, and whether the economy is getting better. The results of these two questions make up Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index.

The latest index report shows that the District of Columbia is far more confident in the economy than any state, by a long shot. In every state, most residents think the economy is getting worse; in the nation’s capital, fully 60 percent think the economy is getting better.

And yet the District of Columbia also has an unemployment rate above the nation’s — 10.8 percent, compared with 9.1 percent — and persistent ills like crime and poverty.

“If ever there were a place where people not only tend not to face economic facts, but it’s almost their purpose not to face economic facts, it’s Washington,” said P. J. O’Rourke, a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard and a political satirist.

And more:

In turn, these factors have helped prop up the housing market, unlike elsewhere in the country where foreclosure rates seem as high as pessimism.

According to the government’s housing price index, the worth of homes nationwide fell 2 percent last quarter. In Washington, they grew 2 percent. Zillow, a company that tracks real estate data, says three of every thousand homes in Washington are in foreclosure, less than a third the rate for the nation.

There is, of course, a large subset of Washingtonians who are not flush with federal largesse, as indicated by the high jobless rate.

Washington has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, with 18.4 percent of residents living below the poverty line, a rate exceeded by only three states in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.

Washington also has the highest income inequality in the country, according to the Census Bureau. For decades there has been a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots in Washington. Northwest Washington is mostly white and wealthy; the other sections are largely black and poor.

“I do think that the views of politicians, specifically, are warped by their social networks and backgrounds,” said Larry M. Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University and author of “Unequal Democracy.”

So let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed that as the Prez puts together his jobs plan he considers what is happening Outside the Beltway.

And as I heard a pundit on TV exclaim the other day while I was chasing the treadmill belt early a.m.: “If you want to be a leader, then lead.”

 

 

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One response to “Why No Urgency About Jobs and Unemployment?

  1. “Why has he not come up with a plan”? I think the easy answer is he doesn’t think he needs a plan. I think he could care less about jobs. Call me crazy or a tea party memeber that maxine waters says “should go straight to hell” but he truly thinks that socialist/keynesian economics work..its just hasn’t been fully implemented yet. Thats why the first billion dollar stimulas went to the states and to the unions…its a slush fund that will eventually come back to him in the form of campaign contributions. Remember, that first round was suppose to keep unemployment from going above 8%. It promptly went to ten with the actually rate upwards of 20%. The speech tomorrow will present nothing new…just more of the same class envy/class divide i.e. tax the evil rich etc. to shore up his base as he embarks on the reelection trail. What a truly frickin disaster we allowed to be voted upon ourselves

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