Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Boehner and Obama need to refocus on jobs -- Feb. 24, 2011 column

The House Republicans passed deep budget cuts that could cost thousands of government workers their jobs, but House Speaker John Boehner shed not a tear.

“So be it,” he said. “We’re broke.”

President Obama, a Democrat, is better at showing he cares, right?

Not exactly. As Obama travels coast-to-coast, rhapsodizing about “winning the future” with exciting new jobs, he rarely meets with or hears from people still suffering with past job losses.

Wait a minute. The politicians may want to sweep unemployment aside while they deal with the deficit and other issues, but polls show that most Americans want jobs to be our No. 1 priority.

Yes, we’ve had encouraging reports about declines in the volume of new claims for unemployment benefits, but it’s too soon to sound an all-clear on the jobs front. The nation’s overall jobless rate dropped to 9 percent last month from 10.6 percent in January 2010, but unemployment still devastates the 12.9 million Americans who are jobless and their families. About 44 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

Plus, some 8.4 million Americans are working part-time but would rather have full-time jobs, which often come with health insurance and other benefits.

And yet, congressional Republicans who earlier complained that Americans wanted jobs, not health care reform, now propose slashing federal programs. Some congressmen concede that these cuts, which have not passed the Senate, could lead to layoffs in the public sector. The hope is that the private sector will rebound and absorb the workers.

“They found their way into public jobs,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., according to the Associated Press. “They can find their way into private jobs.”

Boehner forwarded a letter to Obama signed by 150 economists that called for reining in federal spending to help create jobs. Economists dispute the efficacy of spending cuts for job creation, however, just as they dispute the effects of spending more.

Obama has been harshly criticized for pushing the huge stimulus package that failed to deliver a decline in joblessness, although some economists say unemployment would be far worse without the stimulus.

After his “shellacking” in the midterm elections, Obama froze federal salaries for two years. In his 2012 budget, he proposed cuts in home heating aid and other safety net programs. Courting business, the president named Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and chief executive of GE, to head his jobs council. Obama also hit the road, preaching innovation and education as keys to the new economy.

The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr. reported that in eight trips since the midterm elections, “Obama – who frequently says he uses such travel to better understand the lives of Americans – has held almost no formal meetings with groups of unemployed people or organizations that advocate for them.”

The White House responded that Obama is meeting with groups and companies that create jobs, Bacon reported, and that the president has taken several steps to improve conditions for the unemployed, including extending jobless benefits in states with high unemployment to 99 weeks.

While he works to build better relations with business, however, Obama should try to scotch a troubling trend.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is examining an insidious phenomenon: Employers are excluding the unemployed from consideration for jobs. That’s right, some bosses are figuratively hanging out “No Unemployed Need Apply” signs.

Helen Norton of the University of Colorado’s law school told a commission hearing Feb. 16 that employers and staffing agencies have advertised for workers ranging from electronic engineers to mortgage underwriters, with the proviso that only the currently employed will be considered.

Tom Toles, the Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, this week drew The Economy as a walled fortress with a group of Unemployed people huddled outside. A man in a tower of The Economy looks down at the silent Unemployed and says, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but we discovered it works better without you.”

Nobody would say that in real life, of course.

“I don’t want anyone to lose their jobs,” said Boehner, but, “we’ve got to make tough decisions.”

He and Obama need to be sure their tough decisions don’t hit unemployed people the hardest.



  1. We can all agree with Ms Mercer's concern with the unemployed - and especially with the report on ONLY EMPLOYED WILL BE CONSIDERED FOR JOBS. what rationale is used to justify such a short-sighted policy? I hope it is not widespread. Almost all unemployed deserved to be hired, while some employed deserve to be fired. How about hiring the best qualified and not place artificial obstacles in the path of the truly deserving.

    Ms. Mercer grapples with a important dilemma - how to keep government employees on the job when the government is running a trillion dollar plus deficit. While it is trite to say there is no easy answer, it certainly is the case.

    Another first-class piece of writing and analyis by our favorite columnist, the excellent Ms. Mercer. We look forward to her commentaries each week. Thank you, Ms Mercer, for helping us, your readers, to understand better what is happening in Washington and beyond.

  2. A nice piece of writing by Mercer, and pertinent comments by cmcrva3. Jobs are Job One.