This op-ed was originally published on The Huffington Post on 1/6/10.
It is time to move on from the past and embrace the opportunities and challenges that we face this new year: In 2010 the most challenging domestic issue is high unemployment.
In the next month or two the Senate will be considering the “Jobs for Main Street Act.” This bill is a $174 billion dollar package that aims to create less than 400,000 jobs, maintain 250,000 state education jobs, assist states with Medicaid costs and extend unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed.
This plan is so 2008/2009. A jobs bill that creates less than a half million jobs when over seven million jobs have been lost during this Great Recession and there is an estimated 10 million jobs deficit (if we factor in those who have entered into the workforce since the beginning of the Great Recession) continues the policy of placing a band aid on a gaping economic wound.
In dealing with the economic challenges of 2010 there should not be such a narrow focus on the problems arising from the current Great Recession (until unemployment drops significantly, I cannot consider the recession to have ended). For decades the middle and working classes have been challenged by stagnating wages. Former industrial centers have been dealing with near double digit unemployment for nearly as long.
If the United States hopes to maintain a strong middle class — one that has been in a long term decline — dramatic government action is necessary to position American workers and the economy to rebound. Below are my three suggested policy actions for 2010 to get the country on the right direction for the foreseeable future.
1. A three million public jobs program. For what the United States is about to spend on soldiers in Afghanistan for 2010 — $100 billion — more than three million jobs could be created in this country. These jobs would not be high-paying ones but would quickly replace 40 percent of those lost during the Great Recession, and they would be most beneficial to those who have suffered the most during this downturn: lower-paid workers.
A government investment in these workers would not just put money in their pockets but would strengthen the resumes of millions of Americans, so they can better compete in the private job market.
These jobs should also be aimed at strengthening communities, providing assistance in education and public works, and focused on those who have experienced extended unemployment or live in high-unemployment, high-poverty areas. There are too many Americans and their communities being left behind in this post-industrial economy. A public jobs program will assist these Americans maintain employment and better prepare them for private sector work in the future.
2. Twenty billion dollars of investment in the Workforce Investment Act. About $10 billion should be spent on strengthening the scope and reach of such programs as Job Corps and Youth Build. Another $10 billion would go to a tax credit for businesses that hire people who have gone through programs related to the Workforce Investment Act. This could be paid for by ending public subsidies for high and excessive executive pay.
3. An equity assessment of all future spending focused on strengthening the economy. An equity assessment will review whether federal funds are investing in communities that will most benefit from and are most in need of federal assistance. A proper assessment should determine where funds go, what jobs are created, and in what communities. This information will help make sure that government funds get to working-class and middle-class Americans who must be at the center of the economic recovery.
With the unemployment rate still in double digits, it is time for government to do what government is meant to do: step in when private forces are inadequate to solve a problem. It is clear that the private economy is not yet capable of generating the kind of job creation that will help the economy rebound. The most effective strategy for the government to assist in job creation is simply to create jobs. By doing this, investing more strongly in job training, and having an equity assessment of all spending will help get America back to work again and refocus the American economy from one where wealth was increasingly in the hands of the few to a more broad and shared prosperity.