America needs jobs

America is stuck in the worst economic, political and social crisis since the Great Depression. Despite the unemployment rate dropping 2.5 percentage points from its peak in October 2009, the labor market remains bleak and it is becoming ever clearer that the federal government needs to act aggressively to fix the problem.

The drop in the official unemployment rate is partly due to people who have stopped searching for a job. If a person has not worked or looked for work in the past 12 months, he or she is no longer included in the official government statistics.

The recession officially ended in June 2009, but job growth has remained painfully slow. It took 15 months after the 1990-1991 recession and 39 months after the 2001 recession for employment to recover to precession levels. At the recent pace of job creation, it will take years for employment to recover from the Great Recession that started in 2007.

The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness has estimated that we will need more than 20 million jobs by 2020. The American economy has never created jobs at that rate in peacetime.

The Commerce Department says the American economy grew at an annualized rate of only 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Gross Domestic Product needs to grow by 3 to 4 percent annually to reach its productive potential. The economy is failing to generate enough jobs to support sustainable growth.

About 150,000 new jobs have to be created each month just to absorb new entrants to the labor force. Left to current market forces, America faces a serious job deficit that will last for at least the rest of this decade.

Frustrated with the slow American recovery from the recession, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates near zero since late 2008 and is currently buying $85 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds each month. The efforts are meant to increase spending, investment, hiring and overall growth.

But the Fed has done almost all it can with monetary policy. The American economy needs fiscal stimulus to restore a satisfactory level of employment and income.

The first order of business is to pick the low-hanging fruit to jump-start job growth and compensate for the pressures to outsource American jobs that leave society to pick up the cost of unemployment.

For starters, offer private firms tax benefits for hiring new workers. Right now, those firms receive tax benefits for buying new plant and equipment – even if it replaces existing workers – but no tax benefits for hiring. So fiddle with the tax code to change these tax regulations 180 degrees.

Experts from all quarters agree on the importance of investing in America’s physical and communications infrastructure. This is about as controversial in economics as antibiotics are to doctors. Such investments in income-producing capital assets, not consumption spending projects, would yield positive economic returns and create jobs for years to come. Financing these investments by borrowing is no different than a business building a new plant or a family building a new house. If nothing else, such investments will remove constraints on infrastructure capacity that currently depress economic growth by making it more expensive to move goods and services.

Finally, the military can help solve the shortage of workers with technical skills that businesses often cite. The armed forces have infused technology into nearly every aspect of their operations, and they should train people- who would be paid as federal employees during training- for private sector jobs. The military has a distinguished record of preparing and certifying individuals across a full spectrum of occupational specialties that are in demand by the private sector. It should also be empowered to contract with community colleges for the additional space and instructor capability needed to accommodate the increase in trainees.

How do you detect a society in real trouble? One sure-fire sign is persistently high unemployment. America needs an aggressive, comprehensive strategy to bring employment back to pre-recession levels and prepare workers for 21st-century jobs.

originally published: July 16, 2013

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