Working Agenda

Akron Beacon Journal - September 4, 2011
   

The Akron Beacon Journal

On this Labor Day, more than two-fifths of the 14 million Americans who are unemployed have been looking for work 
for 27 weeks or longer. The previous high for the long-term unemployed (at least since 1950) was 26 percent in June 1983.
That gap may be the most revealing indicator of the depth of the recession, and the long road ahead as the 
country mounts a recovery.

The White House budget office issued its midyear update last week, forecasting persistently high unemployment, the
jobless rate returning to the range of 5 percent sometime in 2017. Note that there still are 6.9 million fewer jobs than
when the recession began in late 2007. Eighteen months of private sector job growth hardly has made a dent in
reducing the number of unemployed, and the Labor Department reported on Friday that in August, the economy
failed to add any new jobs.

Each year, Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based think tank, pulls together an assessment called The State of
Working Ohio. This year’s report, released on Sunday, presents a particularly grim picture. Just 10 states have seen
an actual decline in their median wage the past decade. Ohio is one of them, and a leader of sorts, no other state
experiencing as sharp of a drop. The percentage of Ohioans employed or looking for work has declined for four
straight years. Today, almost 30 percent of the Ohio jobless have been without work for more than a year.

President Obama entered office with the economy bleeding jobs by the hundreds of thousands each month. The
clear expectation at the White House and elsewhere was that the economy would be gaining momentum almost three
years later. Yet, on Thursday, the president will make a nationally televised speech to discuss the stalled economy.

He faces a difficult task, selling the need for an additional stimulus package, measures to spur economic activity until
the private sector picks up speed on its own, aided by the necessary level of demand.

That is the leading economic ailment, lagging demand as consumers (70 percent of the economy) work through their
debt and diminished wealth.

At the least, the president must press for an extension of unemployment benefits for another year. He must make the
case for extending the temporary payroll tax reduction and providing additional aid to beleaguered states and cities,
protecting the jobs of teachers, police officers and firefighters, among others. He would do well to include a further
dose of spending on public works, even an infrastructure bank.

All of this buys time. It should be accompanied by spending on the longer term, on research and development,
especially in energy efficiency and new technologies. Resources should be devoted to talent and upgrading the
quality of the work force.

No doubt, the president will encounter resistance. The spat over the timing of the speech provided yet another
reminder of the dysfunction in Washington, Republicans erecting most of the roadblocks yet Democrats, too,
responsible for blunders. At this point, the president must make clear where he stands — and why.

The country has immediate problems in a sagging economy and a diminished commitment to its foundation.

Addressing those concerns need not involve neglecting the deficit problem for the long run. There can be a plan for
the entire array. And that is job the president must take up in his speech, arranging the country’s priorities, putting
first the urgent need to see more Americans at work.

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