As Americans try to enjoy Labor Day weekend this year too many find themselves without a job and with little hope of finding employment in the near future. Meanwhile Washington remains embroiled in a partisan battle over what steps to take to get the economy growing again.
The latest unemployment statistics released Friday were dismal. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the official jobless rate for August held at 9.1%, for the first time since World War II there were no new jobs added to the economy. Black unemployment hit 16.7%, the highest it has been in three decades, and 11.3% of Hispanics are out of work. Equally depressing was the fact that on Thursday the White House forecast the unemployment rate will be 9.1% for 2011 and only slightly better in 2012, 9.0%.
In response, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called President Barack Obama's economic policies "abysmal." In a written statement he continued, "The President's policies have failed to deliver on his promises of job creation, deficit reduction, and much-needed economic growth." House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh) simply Tweeted, "Where are the jobs?"
Over the past three months the U.S. economy has added an anemic average of 35,000 jobs. It takes an addition of 150,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. Meanwhile U.S. companies are hoarding $2 trillion dollars, primarily due to the lack of consumer demand, that could be invested in their businesses. And many Americans, suffering the the adverse effects of a terrible housing market, are reluctant to spend.
There is plenty of blame to go around for this country's economic woes. But Americans are tired of Washington's "blame game." Most of them understand that President Obama inherited an economy in free fall and he took important steps to avert a second Great Depression. But the president has been in office for forty months and it appears nothing has changed when it comes to the economy.
Enormous pressure is focused on the president, who will address the nation next Thursday. The president is expected to announce several initiatives to get the unemployed working again. The New York Times reports that they will include a tax credit for businesses to increase their payrolls, an extension of the payroll tax credit for individuals and an infrastructure bank targeted at fixing roads and railways. Congressional Republicans will likely be able to block or delay implementation of all the president's proposals. And even if Congress passed an infrastructure bank, it will take months to begin feeling the impact.
The November 2012 presidential election will most likely be decided on who voters think can get America back to work again. Republicans will turn the election into a referendum on President Obama's handling of the economy. For political reasons they will do all they can to forestall any progress over the next year. Instead they will proffer their own pro-business, deficit-reducing initiatives.
In order to make a strong case for his reelection the president has to demonstrate that he has this country on the right track to a sounder economy. The president must make big bold proposals to reduce unemployment in his speech next week and then follow it up with a fierce and well-executed campaign against Republicans to get his agenda passed.
President Obama must give Americans a reason to vote for him. To do so the president must now show, in a two words, unrelenting leadership.