A Progressive Jobs Agenda

Two years after the end of The Great Recession, more than 23 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have simply given up looking for a job. Conservatives continue to exert considerable control over the political agenda in Washington, but they have contributed nothing constructive to the debate about how to put Americans back to work. On the contrary, their “jobs plan” amounts to votes for budget cuts and top-end tax breaks that many of the nation’s top economic experts agree will actually cost the economy jobs as well as impose needless pain on those struggling to make ends meet in today’s weak economy.

Progressives believe that nothing is more important to the future of our country than for Americans to get back to work. The loss of more than 8 million jobs during the 2007-2009 recession is one of the main reasons the federal government is grappling with a large budget deficit. Majorities of Americans in multiple polls have said that while they are concerned about the deficit, they are even more concerned about subjecting millions of people to the specter of long-term unemployment.

The White House and Congress would be wise to unite behind an agenda that can bring jobs back to America’s main streets. Progressive leaders are ready with elements of that agenda.

Here’s what progressives propose:

Implement a two-year accelerated emergency investment program. This $500 billion per year federal program would be designed to spur rapid growth and job creation. Of that, $100 billion per year would go to states and localities to prevent layoffs and service cuts that are undermining an already weak economic recovery. During this two-year effort, these investments should not be “paid for” by revenue increases or budget cuts. The goal of these expenditures is to get unemployment down by increasing economic demand.

Rebuild national infrastructure. Establish an “infrastructure bank” and expand public transit. Congress should immediately pass, and fully fund, the long-delayed surface transportation reauthorization bill, which would quickly create new jobs in construction, manufacturing and other industries by building and restoring bridges, highways, and public transportation.

Meanwhile, passage of the “BUILD Act” would create a $10 billion “infrastructure bank” that, by leveraging private capital, would provide loans and loan guarantees for as much as $640 billion worth of transportation projects and other public facilities, creating millions of jobs in a broad range of industries in every corner of the country.

Change the financial system so that it rewards job creation. A National Commission on Economic Renewal would bring together business leaders, former governors, union leaders and scholars to develop a comprehensive strategy for American economic development, focused on meeting the goal of full employment.

Create the jobs of the future, including green energy jobs.  Investing in green technologies creates new skilled jobs, reduces the U.S. economy’s dependence on foreign oil and helps slow climate change. Creating a Green Corps and funding training programs would provide jobs and skills for young people in retrofitting homes, apartments and public buildings.

Encourage companies to “Make it in America” – and institute currency reform.  Congressional Democrats have introduced a “Make it in America” plan, a set of bills designed to accelerate the creation of good jobs and restore our economic competitiveness, beginning with a national strategy for manufacturing. Included are bills that if enacted would level the trade playing field by holding accountable countries that create an unfair trade advantage by manipulating their currency; bring together government, labor and industry to develop a national strategy to increase manufacturing; boost Workforce Investment Act programs to help workers make the transition to new career opportunities; and ensure that taxpayer dollars spent on water projects are spent first on U.S.-made materials and equipment.

Invest in education and in research and development. President Obama proposed hiring 100,000 more public school teachers over 10 years, and that initiative is needed now more than ever as cash-strapped states and localities lay off thousands of teachers and close schools—precisely the opposite of what the country must do to stay economically competitive in the 21st century. Increased support for higher education, including support for public colleges and universities as well as community colleges, is essential to maintaining a world-class work force and insuring that future generations will have a better future. Progressives also believe that it is vital that the federal research and development spending that gave birth to such innovations as the Internet continue in order to support private sector innovation and broad public benefits.

Expand broadband access. Our digital infrastructure is crucial to our future economic growth and global competitiveness, and equitable and affordable access to high-speed Internet access is key to making the learning and job opportunities of the future available to everyone. That is why progressives support making the federal government a partner with the telecommunications industry in ensuring that no one is left behind by the broadband revolution.

For more on progressive solutions to the jobs crisis:

♦ Citizens’ Commission on Jobs, Deficits and America’s Economic Future: Solutions for addressing the nation’s unemployment and growth crisis.

♦ Don’t Kill Jobs and Growth: A statement by leading economists and thought leaders on how to rebuild the economy.

♦ The American Majority: Where the public stands on jobs, growth and the deficit.