When it Comes to Job Creation, “Do No Harm” Isn’t Enough

Nov 20, 2012

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Neil Ridley, and Kisha Bird

The economy in general, and job creation in particular, was the top priority for voters in this month’s general election.  But Congress could put the country back into recession if it fails to act during the post-election session to avoid sequestration (automatic, across-the-board, spending cuts), allows federal extended unemployment insurance benefits to run out, and fails to extend middle-class tax cuts.

But just avoiding making matters worse isn’t good enough.  According to the most recent employment statistics, released just before the election, more than 12 million people in the US were unemployed in October, with 5 million of them out of work for more than 26 weeks.  The unemployment rate for blacks was 14.3 percent, for Hispanics 10.0 percent, and for single mothers 11.5 percent.  And for young people ages 16 to 24 the unemployment rate was 15.5 percent- nearly twice the national average; for Latino youth it jumps to 17 percent and skyrockets to 27.6 percent for African Americans.

The budget agreement that President Obama and Congress will develop over the next month must include specific actions to create jobs and build the economy.  This should include investments in infrastructure, including rebuilding the areas devastated by the recent storm.  But it should also include dedicated spending aimed at ensuring that disadvantaged workers, in particular low-income youth and adults of color who were already struggling before the recession, are not left behind as the economy expands.

Specifically, the agreement should include the $12.5 billion for Pathways Back to Work that President Obama proposed in his February budget, which included $2.5 billion designated for summer and year-round jobs for youth, and $10 billion for subsidized employment and training for adults.  The President’s American Jobs Act also called for $5 billion for subsidized employment and training, estimated to create  more than half a million jobs.   This proposal was also introduced as a free-standing bill, the Pathways Back to Work Act, sponsored by Rep. Miller (H.R. 3425) and Sen. Blumenthal (S. 1861).

This builds on the successful subsidized employment programs that were operated in 2009 and 2010 with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, where in a relatively short period of time, over 600,000 jobs were created for low-income youth and adults supported by the existing state and local workforce infrastructure.  Governors would have the option of administering subsidized employment for adults through TANF agencies or local workforce boards under the Workforce Investment Act or a combination of the two.   Local workforce boards could use the funds to create employment opportunities for youth in emerging or in-demand occupations and to provide year-round youth participants with education and training leading to industry-recognized credentials.

Too many workers are still looking for jobs.  If the economy creates jobs at the rate of the best year of the 2000s —208,000 jobs per month — it will take until 2020 before we return to pre-recession employment rates.  Our country’s  unemployed – and underemployed – workers can’t wait that long.  The voters have spoken.  It is time for Congress and the Administration to listen and act. 

site by Trilogy Interactive