Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gridlock or Jobs Creation Progress?

Today, Ohio Congressman John Boehner received the gavel of power from outgoing Speaker and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives for the new 112th session of Congress. And right out of the box with other party leaders the group has already drawn a line in the sand for the Republican Party's 242-193 person majority to repeal President Obama's health care reform measure--even tentatively planning a symbolic vote on January 12--and an ambitious goal to slash $100 billion from the federal budget. Contentious issues for sure but where is job creation on their priority list? To me this is a valid question since nearly every new member, even those from the Tea Party wing, campaigned aggressively filling the airwaves with promises repeatedly on this issue last fall. Can't the Congress just move forward from reopening old legislative wounds and just face up to the task of governing? For the sake of millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans I pray that they can. Despite all the attempts to sugarcoat the statistics and certain indicators, our national economy is still very fragile. Compound this with all the huge budget deficits that many state and local governments face, the priority for job creation should be clear and time is of the essence. To echo the repeated calls of millions of Americans for months, its jobs, jobs, jobs, Speaker Boehner, not party and principle.

The numbers from "real" people in the trenches remain frightful. In addition to the millions unemployed and underemployed, recent numbers from the print media include 10.8 million homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth or an astonishing 22.5% of all mortgage borrowers. Consumer bankruptcies recorded a nine percent jump in 2010, and according to the American Bankruptcy Institute are expected to climb further in 2011. Home foreclosures continue to increase and are expected at elevated levels for years. And it should be emphasized here that the vast majority of people who find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances are not subprime or leave-the-keys-in-the-mailbox deadbeats but heretofore responsible middle class Americans with good credit scores who have worked for decades, lost very good paying jobs due to the Great Recession and now after exhausting retirement savings and borrowing all they can from friends and relatives, without an income they have nowhere to turn and face financial ruin. And we're talking full-time, decent paying jobs here, not temporary or part-time minimum wage jobs that inflate government "job growth" statistics. Let's be real. And, let's also not forget, the potential pool of unemployed Americans could grow substantially larger in future months as state and local governments struggle with very serious budget problems of their own where significant department reorganizations and staff reductions are inevitable.

Others have offered the premise and I could not agree more that the President, House Speaker Boehner and the new Congress should recognize the economy and accompanying joblessness for the true crises that they are and establish a modern day "Manhattan Project" to devote the time and resources necessary to get those that need and want jobs back to work as quickly as possible--before they are added to the statistics above--so we can give the collective psyche of the jobless and the nation the major shot in the arm that we desperately need at this time. Some government indicators have improved over the last several months and the stock market has been on the upswing but where are the jobs? From what I have heard and read, small businesses, who have been responsible for the vast majority of new job creation historically, still are not hiring full-time workers because of a perceived, still troubled economic environment. Instead, growth is just inching forward through the hiring of temporary and/or part-time workers with depressed wage levels and most without benefits, including health care. Stock market profit numbers are due to companies cutting costs (often through layoffs), building huge cash reserves that they're sitting on and refusing to invest, dubious jobs growth numbers (including global companies hiring foreign workers) and erratic economic indicators. If the upward-trending statistics that are being publicized are so wonderful, where are the jobs?

I realize America has long been known for its optimistic, never-say-die attitude. History has recorded that we have come together so many times as a people over the life of our nation and shown the resolve to tackle even the most extreme challenges within our borders and across the globe with the characteristic positive spirit, enthusiasm and sacrifice that are our heritage. But as we have so willingly come to the aid of other nations and peoples we face a very real crisis in our own country. In the richest country in the world, too many, once proud and successful middle class Americans are needlessly suffering. They want and need to work but there are no jobs or no one will hire them due to age discrimination or other factors. Please, President Obama, House Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Congress , we need progress and hope not gridlock and politics to get our people back to work and the economy truly humming again. Truly, make it the priority you have all promised. The time for action is now, this year, before the circus of presidential campaign politics that will surely dominate 2012.