06/17/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

The U.S. Lacks Good Jobs, Not Good Ideas

Originally posted on Next New Deal.

A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency brought together leading policymakers, thinkers, and activists to discuss how we can get the U.S. to full employment and create more good jobs, but that was only the beginning of the conversation.

Our jobs conference in early June covered a wide variety of potential solutions to what we call the jobs emergency, from major macro policies to local activist ones. Given how little is done in Washington to solve the problem, it is stunning how many good ideas are out there.      

Senator Tom Harkin, who has sponsored the most comprehensive jobs bill in Congress, set the stage with a keynote address that made no bones about it: we are not creating enough good jobs in America -- not by a long shot. Perhaps his key point of many was that we don't have to choose between closing the budget deficit and making goods jobs. "Smart policies designed to reduce unemployment will also act to reduce the deficit," he said. If we grow, create goods jobs that pay high wages, and encourage investment, the deficit will also fall, as it always has before when economies recovery strongly. It's a win-win.

But Washington is stymying progress. That's why, he said, we must end the filibuster.

Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, assured us there is no deficit problem for the next 10 years, so we shouldn't be focusing on it. Several of our macroeconomists called for much more fiscal stimulus.

One cause of job deficits may well be Wall Street itself. Damon Silvers of the AFL-CIO talked about how Wall Street has misdirected investment from productive uses. Rosemary Batt of Cornell University discussed how privatization puts downward pressure on wages and jobs. Bill Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts Lowell stressed how cash-rich companies use money to buy back shares rather than invest in America.

Participants in the conference talked about creating jobs through infrastructure investment, community investments, and outright job creation by the federal government a la FDR. Others discussed the need to raise labor standards and enforce the existing labor laws.

Local activists offered refreshing perspective. Maya Wiley of the Center for Social Inclusion said we must not think that one-size-fits-all solutions are good enough. We have to bore down to the particulars. Ai Jen Poo wondered why we have so many unemployed when we have so many needs. For example, there is a desperate need for adequately paid care workers. Why can't we get supply and demand to come together?

And Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin told us of her disappointing experience at a local jobs fair, where she saw the poor quality of jobs being offered. She asked the room why so many poor jobs were being created, and how long will this go on.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who also had a job creation bill before Congress, summed up the issue. "This is the seminal battle of our time," she told the conference. "A battle for our economy, a battle for fairness, a battle for the heart and soul of our country. This is a battle that has to be waged all around the country."     

We at Rediscovering Government will make the jobs emergency our number one priority. Videos of the conference panels and keynotes are now available on our web site. We will also publish transcripts and eventually produce a book on the best jobs ideas in the country. We will provide background papers on policy proposals we make. Everyone in the nation should have a decent job if he or she wants one. As far as we are concerned, it's one of our inalienable rights.