Zero. That was the number of net jobs produced by the economy in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Zero is the number that looms above President Obama as he delivers his address Thursday to a joint session of Congress.
The imperative for the president is now more clear than ever. He must present a bold, visionary plan to address today's jobs emergency, or risk delivering to the nation's unemployed ... zero.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning reported that the unemployment rate remained at 9.1 percent, with 14 million out of work and another 8.8 million working part time when they really want to work full time. The meager net increase in private-sector jobs, 17,000, was entirely offset by a loss of 17,000 pubic-sector jobs, which were especially acute at the local government level.
Today's unemployment report amplifies the pressure President Obama should feel to present a game-changing jobs proposal. In a statement released this morning, The Campaign for America's Future's Roger Hickey wrote, "The policy of our government is systematically undermining the recovery. Public sector layoffs are undermining consumer buying power, crippling the ability of the private sector to sell products and services. Clearly, President Obama must reverse this downward spiral by creating jobs directly, putting money in consumer’s pockets, and helping small and large companies to find buyers and invest in growth.”
That encouragement has also already been coming from Obama's progressive allies:
- The Campaign for America's Future joined a coalition of 68 progressive groups in a letter to President Obama calling for him to move beyond "half-measures designed to appeal to a narrow ideological minority" and instead announce a program that would be "big, bold, and create jobs directly."
- The co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, sent a letter to the president Thursday calling for "significant emergency jobs legislation to put Americans back to work now." Some Progressive Caucus members have been backing legislation that would spend $227 billion over two years to create more than 2.2 million jobs. The letter also called for the creation of a National Infrastructure Development Bank to help fund rebuilding projects to "boost our economy and create badly needed jobs."
- The AFL-CIO asked its members Thursday to sign an "America Wants To Work Pledge." "America needs good jobs, and I pledge to do all I can as an activist to demand that our leaders create them," the pledge begins. In a video launching the campaign, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says, "It's our job to demand that our leaders, local and state officials, and the president, take big, bold action now to create good jobs and put Americans back to work."
Add to all of this the administration's own economic projections, released Thursday, that predict unemployment above 6 percent well into 2016, with unemployment still near 9 percent in 2012. With economic growth projected to not average above 2.5 percent for the next several years, the case becomes stronger for the federal government to step in where the private sector has not. The alternative is having the number of long-term unemployed—now around 6,2 million—grow even higher, and the labor force participation rate, now at 64 percent, continue to hover at historic lows.
The specifics of what progressives would consider a "bold" jobs plan are spelled out in "Big Ideas To Get America Working," a series of posts published on OurFuture.org in August. Most of the key elements are also summarized in the AFL-CIO's six-point agenda for good jobs:
1. Rebuild America’s schools, roads, ports, airways and energy systems.
2. Revive U.S. manufacturing and stop exporting good jobs overseas.
3. Put people to work in communities doing work that needs to be done by directly creating millions of jobs.
4. Help state and local governments avoid more layoffs and service cuts by increasing federal Medicaid funding during periods of high unemployment. Ensure that we have our priorities straight so we can fund essential federal government functions—not slash them to the bone.
5. Help fill the massive shortfall of consumer demand by extending unemployment benefits and keeping homeowners in their homes.
6. Reform Wall Street so it helps Main Street create jobs by encouraging lending to small businesses, enacting a financial speculation tax and ending Wall Street cheating and fraud.
The progressives pushing President Obama for this kind of bold jobs agenda have been criticized for ignoring political reality, citing polls that suggest majorities of the public will not support extensive spending programs to create jobs. But while it is true that the conservative spin machine has had significant success in misrepresenting the facts about the administration's stimulus efforts, there is also this poll of 2008 Obama voters commissioned by MoveOn.org that the president should consider. In that poll, released Thursday, 81 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that "Obama should lay out a broad plan to create millions of jobs and hold Republicans accountable if they block it." Only 16 percent said the president should "focus on smaller measures that Republicans have supported" in order to assure some victories in Congress.
It is rarely a good idea for a public official to ignore the people who elected them, especially when 81 percent of them are on one side of an issue. And in this case, that 81 percent is joined by leading economists, a goodly number of Wall Street analysts, and even such Republicans as Bruce Bartlett, who has been openly critical of tea-party obstructionism and economic hostage-taking.
The imperative is clear: President Obama next week must break out of the political constraints imposed by congressional conservatives and inside-the-Beltway pundits. We have a jobs emergency, and the proposal that President Obama presents to the nation next week must be as bold as the seriousness of the crisis.
This post was updated to include a statement from Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future.