Aug. 11, 2011 -- The U.S. may have a job shortage; but there's no shortage of ideas, now, for how to create more jobs. With 25 million people looking for work and the unemployment rate stuck at 9.1 percent, the economy can't recover until the job engine is restarted.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that there were only 3.1 million job openings in June. The number is far below the number at the beginning of the recession (4.4 million in December 2007) and has been flat since February 2011.
President Obama devoted a weekend address to the need to reduce unemployment. Jobs, too, will remain his topic today, when he travels to Holland, Mich. today to inspect a Johnson Controls plant making advanced batteries--an example, says the administration, of how jobs can be created by promoting green technology.
Though the president has said that deficit reduction must remain part of the country's economic strategy, he stressed in his weekend remarks that, "Our job right now has to be doing whatever we can to help folks find work; to help create the climate where a business can put up that job listing. We've got to rebuild this economy and the sense of security that middle class has felt slipping away for years."
Ideas the Obama administration has put forward include a new tax credit that would give companies a financial incentive to hire veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; passage of free trade agreements now pending, which the president says would create jobs by boosting U.S. exports to Asia and South America; and putting unemployed construction workers back to work rebuilding America's roads, bridges, airports and other crumbling infrastructure.
These ideas represent a small fraction of job-creation schemes now circulating, some put forth by think-tanks and advocacy groups, other by unions as well as by politicians of both parties. Seemingly small steps, say advocates, could yield significant job increases.
Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, argues that merely by expanding the federal research and development tax credit, some 162,000 new jobs could be created in the near term. An ITIF report finds that expanding the Alternative Simplified Credit for R&D from 14 percent to 20 percent would result in a short-term tax loss to the government, but that net tax revenues would be "roughly even after 15 years."
Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, advocates putting young people to work by expanding Americorps and by creating new job-corps modeled on those of the 1930s--"the modern equivalent of the WPA." They would build or re-build parks, maintain wilderness areas and create public art. "We would be wise," he thinks, "to say we will employ every kid who graduates from high school, under the age of 22." Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, he says, has introduced legislation to create such jobs through federall-funded non-profit organizations.
Some of the most ambitious and wide-ranging ideas can be found in "A Vision for Economic Renewal: An American Jobs Agenda." The plan is the handiwork of Sen. Tom Harkin,D-Iowa, Reps. John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and a task force co-chaired by Leo Hindery, Jr., chairman of the Economic Growth/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation. Hindery calls the 15-point plan "a far-reaching prescription," which, if taken all at once in one heroic dose, would create "something north of 20 million jobs."
The chance of that happening in the present political climate, he admits, is slim. "No one believes it all can be enacted all at once."
Parts of it, though, might sail through Congress easily, bring quick and meaningful results. On that list, Hindery's top recommendation is the creation of a national Infrastructure Bank (an idea favored, too, by many other job-creation experts).
The White House likes the idea of the bank. So do Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who have authored legislation that would call it into being.
Its loans would reduce the risk faced by private investors wanting to put money into ambitious infrastructure projects, thereby ensuring that private money would be available. "The infrastructure bank," writes Hindery's task force, "should be an independent financial institution owned by the government, rather than an arm of an existing agency. Able to fund a broad range of infrastructure projects beyond roads, rails and runways, it could make loans and loan guarantees and leverage private capital."
Hindery tells ABC News he thinks such a bank affords the single best opportunity now to create lots of private sector jobs. "Each $1 billion such a bank might lend could create 40,000 jobs," he says. With "fully $3 trillion worth" of U.S. infrastructure right now needing attention, many billions might be raised and loaned, many hundreds of thousands of jobs created.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing, which has put forward its own list of job-creation ideas, also likes the bank. AAM director Scott Paul calls the idea "a proven concept in some European countries," Germany, for example.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose prescription for job creation and economic recovery is called the "People's Budget," likes the bank idea; but, recognizing the possibility that money could diverted to pork barrel projects, it recommends a transparent project approval process that would guarantee that only projects with the "biggest value to taxpayers and our economy" would get approved.
Others of the Task Force's ideas include:
-Requiring bidders for government contracts (and applicants for government grants, assistance or awards) to file an Employment Impact Statement, which would show how many jobs would be gained or lost by the awarding of the contract.
-Implementation of a "Buy Domestic" procurement requirement. No single measure, thinks the Task Force, would do more to help resuscitate U.S. manufacturing. Consistent with international trade agreements, "All infrastructure projects funded and guaranteed by the federal government" (and by the proposed Infrastructure Bank), would require that that materials and components used be made in America.
-Enacting temporary tariffs, which are permitted under World Trade Organization rules when a large trade deficit exists and when industries are under threat. Congress should enact such tariffs, thinks the Task Force, "to protect our high-value manufacturing" from being undercut any further state-subsidized Chinese goods.
While Hindery holds out hope that these and other new job-creation ideas can be implemented after the next election, the short term, he says, has left him "as sad as I've ever been." Reason? Neither the administration nor the Tea Party, he says, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, "has any appetite right now for anything that would create jobs." All he sees, he says, is "rhetoric on one side and obduracy on the other."
During the fight over raising the debt ceiling, he says, "There was not one conversation" about what effect passing or not passing the debt ceiling extension would have on jobs. By his estimate, final bill will result in the loss of 1.8 million government jobs over the next 2 to 3 years. The loss of private sector jobs he puts at 600,000 to 700,000, coming mostly from the defense industry.