Politically, economically, and morally, there is no issue of more importance in this country right now than jobs. One in 10 American workers is officially unemployed, not even counting another 7 percent or so who've given up looking or can only find work part-time. More than a third of the unemployed haven't had work in more than six months.
The ongoing unemployment crisis is sapping our country of its strength, jeopardizing its future, and making every other economic problem facing the nation -- from the foreclosure crisis to the federal deficit -- that much worse.
The White House's fundamental response to this crisis, however, is to wait until it gets better and make excuses for not doing more.
"We are willing to look at any idea that's out there that we think will help," President Obama said Monday at a CNBC town hall on the economy. "But we've got to do so in a responsible way. We've got to make sure that whatever it is that we're proposing gives us the best bang for the buck. A lot of ideas that look good on paper, when you start digging into them it turns out that they're more complicated and they may end up not working the way they're supposed to."
In his first interview as Obama's top economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee had this to say about the unemployment rate: "It's going to stay high. This recession is the deepest in our lifetimes, the deepest since 1929. If you take the people thrown out of work in the 1982 recession, the 1991 recession, the 2001 recession, not only is this bigger, this is bigger than all of those combined. So more than 8 million people lost their jobs."
He concluded: "It's going to take a significant push on our part and time before that comes down. I don't anticipate it coming down rapidly."
But why not push harder? Why not at least try?
Part of the answer, of course, is the politics of Congress. Republicans in lockstep, backed up by right-leaning Democrats, present a mighty obstacle to any White House push for anything these days, particularly when it involves spending money.
Furthermore, it's too late to make a difference in the November midterm elections. Even the swiftest job-creation measures take a few months to ramp up.
And yet, if you think an ambitious job-creation agenda is impossible now, imagine trying to get it passed under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner.
Over the past two years, top economists and social thinkers have proposed a wide variety of measures that would significantly reduce the nation's unemployment rate. The big-but-not-big-enough 2009 stimulus package included some elements of a few of them. (See, for instance, my slideshow on 11 Very Reasonable Places Your Stimulus Dollars Went). But there is still a lot more the government could do -- and should do.
"High unemployment casts a pall on everything," says Bob Pollin, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "It becomes this negative feedback loop."
His conclusion: "Doing something about jobs is everything -- and it should have been everything from day one."
As for Obama's rationalization for inaction -- that there are practical drawbacks to implementing policies that sound good in theory -- Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, says that's not a good enough excuse.
"The jobs crisis is so serious that the implementation problems pale by comparison," he said. "We really are in an international disaster right now."
Starting today, the Huffington Post will be calling attention to serious, substantive measures available to the White House, Congress, the Federal Reserve, or some combination of the three, that could significantly abate the nation's unemployment crisis.
So far, we have 20 of them on our list. We'll post one a day, in no particular order, starting with today's proposal to temporarily suspend payroll taxes.
Our list currently includes lowering some taxes (like the one on payrolls) and creating some new ones (on carbon, and excess bank reserves); hiring some people directly, and many more indirectly; rethinking our trade policy -- particularly our China policy --- and coming up with an industrial policy; reducing the work week; devaluing the dollar; investing in schools, broadband, infrastructure, and a entirely new energy economy; and all the time keeping a special eye out for younger and older workers, who this crisis has hit the hardest.
If you think you've got some ideas we don't, send them our way -- email firstname.lastname@example.org. And post your thoughts and feelings as comments.
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.
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