Obama in Allentown as jobless brace for winter of discontent
By Joshua Reese
Philadelphia DNC Examiner
December 4, 2009
With the White House to Main Street initiative kicking off today in Allentown, Penn. the dialogue with America continues to explore the reasons, and potential solutions, for our national hiring freeze. In what will be a town-hall-style format, citizens can take their gripes and suggestions directly to their president in what should prove to be a healthy debate.
President Obama tries to place his thumb on the pulse of a nation in economic crisis with the initiative. The problem can be summed up with the words of the great Fats Domino when he said, “a lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A., M.D., or Ph.D. Unfortunately, they don’t have a J.O.B.”
Amassing CEO’s, union leaders, economists, non-profit organizations, business owners and elected officials all in one place, the White House hosted the Jobs and Economic Growth Forum on Thursday, hoping to formulate solutions for the plight of America’s growing unemployed. Major market indicators, led by a resuscitated Dow Jones Industrial Average now over the 10,000 mark, were able to effectively turn the corner towards revitalization as a direct result of the stimulus package. Overall employment, on the other hand, has yet to realize “stimulation”, and lawmakers scramble in pursuit of that ever elusive economic turnaround the country has been so desperately awaiting.
American joblessness is at its worst level since 1983 as unemployment crested the ominous 10% mark in October. The economy has witnessed a slowing to the monthly reports of job cuts, having peaked in January at 741,000 terminations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, October brought an additional 190,000 into the ranks of the unemployed. November’s numbers are expected to continue the decreasing number of jobless workers being generated, but the national economy has a long way to go before the supply of jobs begins to outpace this insufferable demand. At present, there are six people out of work for every available job opening. Doing the math has never been so depressing.
With yesterday’s Jobs Forum, Obama hoped to generate questions and answers on the topic of job creation and preservation. Many democrats want to push for yet another fiscal stimulus package, but a new one specifically oriented to grow the ailing jobs market. With Republicans ready to pounce on anything that could potentially increase the federal deficit, Obama has so far managed to dodge the trap. Of course, the Forum itself was the target of detractors, as though the very concept of answer-seeking was an irrelevant stage in the problem solving process.
Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) summed up the predictable GOP spin-machine’s response saying, “the biggest problem we heard from our economists with regard to why employers aren’t hiring: it’s all the job-killing policies that are being offered by this administration and this Congress, and creating an awful lot of uncertainty for American employers.” Evidently, “our economists” must have forgotten the aforementioned peak of job cuts in January, when former president Bush was yielding the Oval Office to the current administration, and Congress was playing musical chairs, replacing red ones with blue.
Of course, these same detractors writhe in dismay at the mere mention of the status quo being directly attributable to Bush and his economic policies (or lack thereof). It’s difficult not to recount the many tax cuts for America’s top 1%, the distance between CEO salaries and entry-level workers, the top-heavy redistribution of American wealth, the deficit-rendering wars on multiple fronts, the credit-default swaps, the vanishing interest rates which led to the very sub-prime mortgage insanity that still plagues millions of American homeowners facing foreclosure. It's hard, but we digress, and move on accordingly.
A statement from the American Small Business League indicated they were “concerned that President Obama’s jobs forum is yet another publicity stunt designed to yield positive public relations, as opposed to creating new jobs.” Once finished with their pot-shot intro, they brought up the relatively reasonable suggestion, “If President Obama were really serious about creating jobs he would back (legislation) which will redirect over $100 billion a year in federal infrastructure spending to the small businesses where most Americans work and where nearly all new jobs are created.” As small businesses employ over half the country’s workforce, this idea holds more water than the current formula, where bank bailouts unfreeze credit markets, then presto, job growth.
With the passage of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act back in February, the Obama administration hoped to stave off the worst national economic crisis since the Great Depression. Having been elected on the platform of ‘hope’ and ‘change’, Obama’s attempt to stimulate job growth has yet to reach its intended goal of four million jobs created or saved. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the actual range would be within 600,000 and 1,600,000. This is definitely a good sign, but not nearly enough for American families patiently waiting to exhale, nor those determined to blame our first-year commander-in-chief for problems that were a decade in the making.
With two-thirds of the stimulus package still unspent, Obama’s team of economic advisors has sought ways to use funds previously earmarked for “reinvesting” in America. This would be putting the stimulus package to a more palatable use, as American distaste for tapping the taxpayers’ ATM reaches its tipping point. The concept of rescuing our morally bankrupt banking system is ludicrous, while the taxpayers themselves endure such across-the-board hardships as we see today. Politically speaking, it makes far more sense to tap money already granted by Congress earlier this year, rather than generate an entirely new spending plan. It’s safe to say the words “new spending plan” will never again be strung together in that particular order by anyone representing the White House.
Christina Romer, on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, refused to acknowledge an impending stimulus package dedicated solely to job growth. Rather, she pointed to future “targeted actions… things that would bring the private sector in off the sidelines”. Some democrats have suggested these ‘targeted actions’ include tax-cuts for companies creating positions for hire. Republicans seem to back a “payroll tax holiday”, citing the former as being wasted spending that might reward companies for the formation of jobs they were already going to implement.
One left-leaning think-tank, the Economic Policy Institute, proposes emulating the 1930’s-era Works Progress Administration by establishing a new, updated version of this, surely to be criticized by the right as “big government socialism”. The proposal would cost an estimated $40 billion/year for three years, creating one million jobs in what would amount to a government-run employment service. This would be for the implementation of previously non-existent segments of bureaucracy, such as a national child care initiative, or a nationalized labor force that could build low-income housing, but under the umbrella of federal employment: the old “two birds with one stone” routine.
Already being accused of having an over-reaching first year, the Obama administration chooses its moves with care and precision, cautiously optimistic about the future of America’s workforce. As congressional democrats hope to advance an agenda of education reform, healthcare reform, finance reform, etc., they must first address that which pumps the blood of capitalism through the veins of America: Jobs.
Jobs are at the heart of the organism that is our beloved free market system, but a simultaneous, systemic overhaul is what is required here and now. We need a comprehensive approach, one that entails housing foreclosures, frozen credit lines, unemployment extensions, and the rising cost of healthcare (with a rising tide of uninsured), all while maintaining deficit-neutrality.
With Washington looking forward to a winter of perpetual legislative gridlock, global financial markets seek to find that abstract notion of “certainty”, begging the question: will this liberalized version of trickle-down economic theory translate into a stabilized economy in time for the mid-term elections in 2010. Only time and polling will tell, but We the People have the power to steer these issues as those seeking our vote in November tend to listen well when the ballot-box is fast approaching.
Critics of President Obama stand in unison, attempted to blockade any and all progress at a time of unparalleled crisis. As a country, stand and be heard, but we must move away from nonsense suggesting Obama is trying to take on too much at once. What supporters of Obama view as “rising to the many challenges at hand”, opponents of the president see as “ideological grand-standing”. The sheer amount of problems we face as a nation calls for diligence across the board. Party loyalty to either extreme tends to lend itself to obstructionism. What could be more un-American than the rampant suppression of effective problem-solving?
The group Organizing for America will be holding a nearby rally in support of the president’s efforts on economic reform. For anyone hoping to attend, more information can be found at: http://pa.barackobama.com/PresidentInAllentown