WASHINGTON -- Corporate America is sitting right on top of the solution to the nation's employment crisis, according to a new report from a group of University of Massachusetts economists.
If America's largest banks and non-financial companies would just loosen their death-grip on a chunk of the $3.6 trillion in cash they're hoarding and move it into productive investments instead, the report estimates that about 19 million jobs would be created in the next three years, lowering the unemployment rate to under 5 percent.
"There is no reason that the U.S. needs to remain stuck in a long-term unemployment crisis," Robert Pollin, lead author of the report and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute, said in a statement accompanying the report's release Tuesday.
"Getting the banks and corporations to move their hoards into productive investments and job creation requires carrots and sticks -- policies such as a new round of government spending stimulus as well as taxes on the banks' excess reserves -- that can both strengthen overall market demand and unlock credit markets for small businesses," Pollin said.
(See, for background, slide 5 of our Nov. 8 story, 6 Things Obama Could Do To Goose The Economy -- Without Congress, and, from 2010: Job Creation Idea No. 9: Encourage Banks To Lend -- Or Else.)
Even as the nation continues to confront massive unemployment, the nation's biggest companies have been hoarding cash. Banks have been able to borrow the money essentially for free from the Federal Reserve, so why not? In fact, according to the Federal Reserve (Table L.109, line 28), banks are sitting on $1.6 trillion in reserves -- about 80 times the $20 billion they held in 2007.
Meanwhile, non-financial companies are keeping their profits liquid, rather than plowing them back into investments, to the tune of about $2 trillion.
Together, that amounts to almost a quarter of the U.S. gross domestic product.
Pollin and his colleagues figured that even accounting for a massive safety cushion, at least $1.4 trillion of those reserves should be considered excess.
Meanwhile, the report notes, small business are having a hard time getting anyone to lend them money.
The report concludes that investing the $1.4 trillion in private businesses would generate an enormous surge in employment. It recommends that the money in particular be channeled toward "small businesses that face larger than normal credit constraints; more labor intensive businesses; and businesses that generate large social as well as private benefits."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the ratio of current bank reserves to those in 2007.
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Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post. You can send him an email, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get email alerts when he writes.