Obama can be a jobs-jobs-jobs president

2009-12-12 13:30

PRESIDENT Obama has

always been scattered and unfocused when it comes to addressing the primary

­social, economic and political challenge of his presidency – high

unemployment.

But he is starting to “get it,” as is evidenced by a series of job

creation proposals the White House released this week. It is especially

significant that he has picked up on calls by unions and grassroots groups to

use at least some of the $200?billion (about R1.5 trillion) in left-over

Troubled ­Asset Relief Program (Tarp) money to encourage small businesses to

expand and promote hiring.

Obama is not going as far as the unions have asked. He reportedly

plans to use $20 billion, and $40 billion in unused funds, to free up lending to

small businesses and perhaps another $30 billion for tax credits to encourage

hiring. That’s an encouraging intervention. What’s ­encouraging is that the

president is beginning to link his happy talk about the economy to practical

initiatives.

Until recently, Obama took most advice on jobs from Treasury

Secretary Tim Geithner and National Economic Council director Larry Summers, who

are about as in touch with the real economy as Marie Antoinette was with the

hungry citizens of 18th century Paris.

 As such, the president kept talking about

how things were getting better as unemployment hit 25-year highs, and the real

unemployment rate (factoring in those who have given up looking for work)

compares with Depression-era numbers.

A series of wake-up calls culminating in the confirmation that the

country was experiencing double-digit unemployment for the first time since

Ronald Reagan’s first term got Obama listening.

So Obama is saying – and doing – some of the right things.

But he must step it up if he wants to tackle daunting jobless

figures in some parts of New England and the Great Lakes states.

Moving roughly 25% of leftover Tarp money from Wall Street to Main

Street is not ­going to jumpstart the economy in the most battered regions of

the country – regions where Democrats will be facing tough fights to defend

House and Senate seats next year. Where to begin? Obama has borrowed a good idea

(using the remaining Tarp funds for job creation) from the ­AFL-CIO, a national

trade union centre. He should borrow a few more.

The labour federation continues to press the Obama administration

and Congress to move quickly to:

?Extend the lifeline for jobless

workers. Unless Congress acts now, supplemental unemployment benefits,

additional food assistance and expansion of Cobra healthcare benefits will

expire at the end of the year. Extending benefits will boost spending and create

jobs.

Rebuild schools, roads and

energy systems. America has at least $3 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs.

Increase aid to state and

local governments to maintain vital services. State and local governments and

school districts have a $178 billion budget shortfall this year alone, while the

recession creates greater need for their services.

Fund jobs in communities. We

should put people to work restoring our environment, providing childcare and

tutoring, cleaning up abandoned houses and more. These are not replacements for

existing public jobs. They must pay competitive wages and target distressed

communities.

Obama should also move to change policies that are causing

unemployment. To do so, he must change the restructuring of the auto industry to

prevent the plant closures that are taking place as part of the auto-industry

bailout. He should adopt a new approach to international trade that addresses

outsourcing and the country’s trade deficit. As it happens, a smart initiative

on trade, the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act, was

introduced this week in the Senate by Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown and has

attracted more than 125 supporters in the House.

Obama can be a jobs-jobs-jobs president. But to do so he must make

a deeper commitment to job creation, while at the same time recognising that bad

bailouts and trade policies are critical causes of rising unemployment. – The

Nation

Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The

Nation magazine


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