President Obama Talks Jobs

06/30/2011 09:21 am ET | Updated Aug 30, 2011
  • Jared Bernstein Fmr. Obama administration economist; CNBC and MSNBC contributor

President Obama gave a press conference Wednesday and elaborated a number of jobs ideas. Since I've been focusing on that part of the agenda for a while, here's what I heard, with some commentary.

Things the Administration Can Do

"[Review] government regulations so that we can fix any rules in place that are an unnecessary burden on businesses."

Businesses always complain about regulations -- no question they create an expense. Barring law suits, it would be a lot cheaper for food producers and restaurants, e.g., not to worry about food safety. But burdens like that are necessary. It's not easy to come up with unnecessary ones, and even if you did, I doubt you'd end up generating a lot of jobs by getting rid of them (though we should do so, of course, and Cass Sunstein at OMB has been on that case for a while).

There is a way, however, to get more jobs traction in this space. Don't get rid of the regulations -- streamline them. It often takes too long, many months instead of a few weeks, to complete the environment or safety reviews, for example, that need to occur before a project can get started. That's maybe something we could live with at 5% unemployment, but not at 9%.

Speeding up the necessary regulatory process would do a lot more for jobs than getting rid of unnecessary regulations.

"Get small businesses and start-ups the financing they need to grow and expand."

There's been a lot of this already, including a $30 billion dollar program to incentivize banks to lend to small businesses. My take is that this helped a little but there's unlikely much of a bang for the buck here. It's true that small businesses still face some credit constraints, but their bigger problem is not enough people coming through their doors... i.e., demand.

Make sure workers have the "right skills and training for manufacturing jobs in companies all across America -- jobs that companies are looking to fill."

Again, sure. But don't expect supply-side solutions to do much for what's fundamentally a demand problem. From what I can tell, there really aren't a lot of "jobs that companies are looking to fill."

Things Congress Can Do

"...send me a bill that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to patent a new product or idea."

Again, let's do it...I'm for it. But not an obvious jobs plan.

"...send me a bill that puts construction workers back on the job rebuilding roads and bridges -- not by having government fund and pick every project, but by providing loans to private companies and states and local governments on the basis of merit and not politics."

Good one. This is a plea to fund the infrastructure bank idea that the president has wanted to pass for a while. There's a move afoot to use some of the initial revenue gains from another tax repatriation holiday for the overseas profits of American multinationals ("initial" is the key word -- this plan is big revenue loser). Don't go there!

"...advance a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia and South America -- agreements that would support tens of thousands of American jobs while helping those adversely affected by trade."

I'll have to get back to this one. For now, suffice it to say that both sides exaggerate the job impacts of trade deals. One thing for sure: our trade deals have never led to the net export boom their advocates predict. More open trade has in fact meant larger trade deficits for us. And that has little to do with trade deals, anyway.

"And right now, we could give middle-class families the security of knowing that the tax cut I signed in December will be there for one more year."

Extend the middle class tax cuts. Everyone should see that one coming. The question is, do we hold the line and let the sun finally set on the high-end tax cuts? That line broke last December. It would be very good for our fiscal health to not break it again.

The president also continued to talk about extending the payroll tax holiday, perhaps as part of the debt deal.

All told, I was happy to see the president make a solid, unequivocal call for targeting the jobs deficit along with the budget deficit. This is a drumbeat he needs to keep up, and I promise to do my part to help keep the rhythm going.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.