fresh voices from the front lines of change







The White House Looks for Work is an online preview of a coming story by Peter Baker in the NY Times Magazine, looking behind the scenes in the White House as they tried to move “from crisis to anemic recovery.” Baker reports on a late-December meeting to prepare for next week’s State of the Union speech, where President Obama asked “for bold ways to bring down unemployment.” Continuing,

The ideas presented to him, though, seemed familiar and uninspired. “You know, guys,” he said, according to someone in the room, “I’ve told you before, I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me.” Nothing he was hearing excited him.

There was nothing coming from his economic advisors that sounded like it would work. And Congress, having just spent more than $800 billion on even more tax cuts for the rich, is unwilling to spend any money to help the unemployed or create jobs, “He was really frustrated that there weren’t solutions on the cheap.”

Here is where we are today: In 2008 the country suffered the financial crisis and then waves of layoffs as the Wall Street/housing bubble popped. Now it is 2011, unemployment is still close to 10% with no relief in sight, the “U-6” real unemployment rate is closer to 16-17%, long-term unemployment is the highest ever, millions of “99’ers” — people unemployed for 99 or more weeks — are losing their unemployment benefits right now, all while corporate profits are the highest ever, income at the top is the highest ever and, as always, Wall Street bonuses are soaring.

So the situation is bad — except for a wealthy few. Yet no one can tell you what the government’s plan is for fixing the economy and doing something about unemployment.

To turn things around the President should get excited about the function of government, which is to be on the side of We, the People, watching out for and empowering us. Not Wall Street or big multinational corporations, us. We need investment in our people, and reregulation of the predatory corporations that have been forcing wages down.

So here are some “exciting” ideas for getting the government involved to do something about unemployment and fix the economy. The President is free to use any or all of these in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech.

1) Infrastructure: There are millions of jobs that need doing and millions of people who need jobs. The deficits caused by the Reagan tax cuts led to deferring maintenance of our infrastructure. Now, after 30 years of neglect, the Reagan Revolution is home to roost and the infrastructure is literally crumbling. But we need to go beyond maintenance and begin to modernize the infrastructure to make us economically competitive again, with modern airports and ports, high-speed rail, “smart” electrical grid, fiber internet, electric-vehicle charging stations, and so much more.

2) Public works projects: Jobs! Along with funding infrastructure modernization we need direct government hiring of the unemployed. People can be put to work doing things that make life better for all of us: fixing up our parks, cleaning up our cities, helping teachers and thousands of other things. Mostly we need those jobs.

3) Cash For Caulkers: If we paid to retrofit buildings and homes to be energy efficient there would be a tremendous payback to the economy. We should employ people to install double-paned windows, seal cracks, stop drafts under doors, etc. in every home, commercial and government building in the country.

4) Free Higher Education For All: Provide serious funding for community colleges across the country, allowing them to expand (construction jobs) and increase the number of classes (teaching jobs) so people can upgrade their skills (economic competitiveness), enabling them to get better jobs at better wages. On top of that, remember how the GI Bill provided a huge boost to our economy? We should provide free 4-year university education for anyone who qualifies, and pay for housing and meals while in school!

These are just four ideas to get things rolling again. Please leave some ideas in the comments.

March 10 CAF Summit on Jobs and America’s Future

CAF is putting on a conference on jobs that will be called The Summit on Jobs and America’s Future. March 10, 2011 at National Press Club.

Mark your calendar. Details to come soon.

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