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Thomas Kochan

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The Jobs Crisis: Time to Treat It as a National Emergency

Posted: 07/09/2012 10:57 am

The fact that economy could only produce an anemic 80,000 jobs in June and an average of 75,000 per month over the second quarter of the year paints a clear but dismal picture -- at this rate of job growth we will never get back the jobs lost in the Great Recession and those needed to keep up with the growth in the labor force. To do this, the president's Jobs Council says we need 20 million jobs by the end of the decade.

That means we need over 200,000 new jobs each month from now to then. But since we are now creating less than half this number and there is no reason to believe the situation, on its own, will get any better soon. The bottom line is by waiting for the labor market to recover on its own we are falling further and further behind rather than closing the gap.

This is a bona fide national emergency. We just have not had the courage to define it as such yet, maybe because we fear we lack the national leadership and unified conviction to pull together as leaders have in response to past national emergencies. So let's call it as it is and challenge business, labor, education, community, and government leaders to focus on this issue for the sake of our nation today and our children and grandchildren's future.

Here's how:

The president should rally the nation in the same way President Roosevelt did in 1940 after Hitler invaded Belgium by calling the nation to build 50,000 new airplanes in the next year, or the way President Kennedy mobilized the country in his 1961 speech committing to win the space race by putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The president should call on business, labor, education, and other key groups to work with him by creating and implementing a Jobs Compact capable of creating 20 million new, high quality jobs by 2020. (For more background, see "A Jobs Compact for America.")

This goal is achievable. These new jobs could be generated through a combination of investments in infrastructure, rehiring the over 700,000 teachers and other local and state government employees laid off in the last two years, restocking apprenticeship and community college slots for hard to fill occupations, negotiating the conditions needed to bring back manufacturing jobs that now can be done competitively in the U.S., building the ecosystems needed to capture the next generation skilled manufacturing jobs, and using advances in on-line learning to retool under or unemployed college graduates with the technical engineering and/or math skills industry says are now in short supply and high demand. While the jobs deficit is primarily a demand side problem, this mix of demand and supply strategies will both address employer claims of skills shortages and help insure the jobs created are of high enough quality to get wages finally moving in the right direction again.

If our political leaders are unwilling to lead this effort until after the election, so be it. Let's lead from below. In September, the President's Jobs and Competitiveness Council will meet at the Harvard Business School to discuss what to do. Let's deliver a message that says it is time to commit to a Jobs Compact, regardless of who wins the election in November. Together we can deliver a practical, achievable, consensus based strategy for saving our economy from further decline. To do otherwise is to resign children to a continued decline in their standard of living and to put our democracy at risk of further polarization that can only diminish, if not ultimately threaten our democracy.

 
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