The National Catholic Review
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The U.S. economic “recovery” has not only stalled; it has been undermined—by a persistent decline in the financial well-being of most Americans. Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau documented another decline in the nation’s median income. It also found that more Americans are living in poverty (46.2 million) than in any year during the last five decades. Some 14 million Americans are out of work. Nearly 50 million Americans currently have no health insurance. This year, as last, banks will foreclose on more than a million homes, causing Americans to lose what traditionally has been their single greatest asset.

One remedy for most of these problems is clear: Put more Americans back to work at a living wage. Few adults can climb out of poverty or pay off a mortgage without a job, and jobs are scarce. There are four job seekers for every job available, a situation that is expected to worsen over the next few months when several corporations and many state and local governments lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. Soon the veterans will come home; they will need jobs too.

Meanwhile, a polarized, politicized and paralyzed Congress has been fiddling while America burns. Last year Congress let itself be distracted by a preoccupation with the debt ceiling, a long-term issue, when it ought to have united behind a plan to create jobs—a national emergency. One wag expressed appropriate urgency when he advised the Federal Reserve to act “as if its hair were on fire.” His advice applies to the president, Congress and business leaders, too. Tough economic times require urgent remedies and strong leadership.

With his American Jobs Act, President Obama has focused squarely on job creation. A conservative reading of several economic forecasts shows that implementation of his bill could add more than a million new jobs in 2012, cut unemployment by 1 percent and increase economic growth by at least 1 percent. These are modest but immediate gains, well worth the $447 billion cost. To garner public support, the president is taking his bill directly “to the American people,” a strategy raised to an art form by Ronald Reagan.

According to polls, a majority support the plan’s basic approach. They rank job creation as their top priority, overwhelmingly approve of spending on infrastructure and education, and support federal tax increases on the highest earners. These are all included in Mr. Obama’s bill, so it ought to be wildly popular. But so far only half of those polled about his proposal express confidence in the plan. Some object that the jobs bill offers too little too late and that Congress is unlikely to pass the measure. That is why the president must make a case for urgency—people need work now—and not wait until after the next election or inauguration. The former is governing, the latter the worst sort of politics. It is dereliction of duty for any elected official to put his or her own political future or that of a party above the suffering of millions of Americans.

Mr. Obama’s direct communication with the people ought to serve as an important civic reminder that in a democracy the people either exercise or abdicate real power. They demand relief and shape the plan or suffer the consequences. In their multiple roles not only as individuals but as organized workers, civic and business leaders, shareholders and members of clubs, boards and other voluntary associations, the people can actively suggest and promote remedies on behalf of the common good. The Tea Party and MoveOn exemplify the force of citizen action at different ends of the political spectrum. Encouraging ordinary Americans, who tend not to be extremists, to become more politically engaged could help move the country onto the right track.

The president is gambling on that. He appears to think that if he clarifies his own direction for the country, explains what he is prepared to do about jobs, homes, taxes and the economy, and how he intends to pay for his proposals, the public will see him as a moderate leader who has the best interests of the nation at heart. Clarity and moderation could strengthen the democratic process. So could executive strength, which Mr. Obama is showing at the 11th hour by his recent threat to veto any deficit reduction plan that would cut Medicare funding but fail to include tax increases on the nation’s wealthiest. According to polls, the public also supports this mix of cuts and raised revenues.

Short-term job creation is one part of a broader vision for the nation’s future. When coupled with fairer taxation, mortgage debt relief and judicious cuts to reduce the deficit, it could help build a solid basis for growth and restore public confidence. Ultimately, however, the country needs to develop a spirit of unity, exemplified by leaders who will work together to solve grave national problems. For now, the president is right to promote jobs. Let the people say Amen.

Comments

Charles Erlinger | 9/24/2011 - 11:20am
Does anybody believe that there is a simple explanation why the President was so silent on the Simpson-Boles Report, why Congress allowed itself to be "distracted" by the debt ceiling furor, why the President waited until the "11th hour" to put out a somewhat detailed jobs plan?  Could it be that both sides were waiting until the election season attracted more mass interest in these issues so that the respective advocacy and attack campaigns would grab traction with those most likely to be paying attention at this time, namely, the party stalwarts and workers, who, by the way, are simply interested in winning? 

For those interested in the English language there is another cause for concern in all of this, as if there were not enough already to cause concern.  It is the massive misuse of a perfectly good English word.  These people should not be called "our leaders."  They should be called "our manipulators."
C Walter Mattingly | 9/24/2011 - 7:32am
The President's rational for this plan is the reverse of the one embodied in his implementation of his health plan: whereas his concern in his jobs plan here is to boost unemployment between now and his reelection, i.e. window dressing for his personal benefit, his implementation of the costly part of his health plan is scheduled in after November 2012. Of course Americans want jobs now, but if we finish the statement and say Americans want jobs now and after November 2012, they would prefer the complete statement. President Obama had such a package on his desk, one which would genuinely restore confidence in the business community because it wasn't an election gimmick but rather a plan to move forward tackling the main issue, entitlement expenditures, as well as important secondary issues such as tax reform. It was a true bipartisan effort, facing issues squarely, not constructed over political quicksand. It would have met resistance from the extreme right and left of both parties, but it had important support from such as Senator Coburn and the middle. It would have required conviction and leadership.
He simply didn't step up.
Now the real question for the thoughtful, as it is for the businessman who wishes to have some intermediate term confidence that it has a supportive president and a reasonably sane plan for at least  the intermediate-term future, is do they wish to support this reelection program for a predsident whose words and actions they cannot trust for a costly election year spike in place of a plan that is good for now and the future of America? 
I've not given up on hope for America. Just for this president acting sanely for America's true economic interests. 
Mike Evans | 9/24/2011 - 2:17am
With nearly 50 million living in poverty, some of it totally abject proverty and with nearly 20% of folk unemployed and badly underemployed, you would think that some kind of national emergency existed. Instead, all this carping about who is among the deserving poor, whether or not certain stimulus activities will work and how we should wait for the 'confidence fairy' and complete deregulation to show up as our salvation has no practical or even philosophical reality. For the congress to go on vacation and politicians go out stumping for votes while the country starves and withers is unconscionable. We can't even get EFSP (FEMA) food locker funding released that was passed way last year. Recent victims of weather tragedies look in vain for help. We have no hope of a federal budget anytime soon, in fact we may have to shut down the government on Sept. 30. The party of 'no' and the tea that is brewing will be bitter for all of us. Meanwhile, as if in sympathetic pain, domestic and world financial markets are melting down. Soon your savings will be worthless or worse, impounded. Can you say Argentina?
Joshua DeCuir | 9/23/2011 - 7:23pm
I would like to point out to the editors (as they themslves can verify by a simple Google search) that much of what is in the President's Jobs Bill was soundly rejected...by his OWN party when they controlled the Congress.  We can lay the blame on "Congress" (which is America-speak for "Republicans"), but until we own up to the fact that the President's proposal amounts to a campaign document rather than a serious policy propsal, your castigations of Republicans are shallow.
KARL ZEUNER REV | 9/23/2011 - 4:46pm
A reminder to please use full names per our policy.
TM Lutas | 9/23/2011 - 4:31pm
Not even President Obama is taking his "jobs" proposal seriously. Even absent a GOP filibuster and a likely defeat in the GOP controlled house, President Obama has included enough non-starters in his proposal that several Democrat Senators have declared that they are not supporting it so it's a known failure right out of the gate. So why is the proposal going forward? President Obama wishes to prepare the terrain for his 2012 campaign and he needs a "do nothing Congress" to run against to have a hope for reelection. This cynical exercise is transparent enough. So why has America's editorial board not seen through it?

There are plenty of jobs to be had, were regulations not stopping entrepreneurs from creating them. We came within a hair's breadth of implementing pollution regulations for which the technology to bring industry into compliance has not yet invented. Yes, President Obama's EPA regs would have criminalized the entire manufacturing sector of the USA. We dodged the bullet on that one for now but in other respects, our economy has had several heavy blows landed on it by recent regulation and has been operating for a long time under large burdens that do not actually advance the general welfare.

It does not cost money to cease enforcement of expensive regulations whose impact to companies' financial health far exceeds any gains to individual health and welfare. That would be a superior solution to the problem of jump starting the US economy. Instead, we get politics, cynicism, and the suckers who can't see the Obama con right in front of them.
James Collins | 9/23/2011 - 2:17pm
The president's new plan is just like the first one. That didn't work and this one won't either. What we need is for the government to get out of the way and let the job creators go to work. Eliminate the tax on foreign earnings and bring that investment back here. Stop the government from trying to pick winners and losers and let the market pick them. No more Solyndras. Take the wraps off drilling for oil and natural gas. Complete the pipeline from Canada to the U.S. so we can get their oil. Put a gag on the EPA. Stop the 200,000 new pages of regulations Obama is generating to implement Obamacare. Etc., etc., etc.
Vince Killoran | 9/23/2011 - 1:50pm
William (#2) calls on President Obama "be the nation's CEO that he was elected to be." 

I didn't vote for him to be CEO: few CEOs can work well in the public sphere and leading the executive branch of the federal government involves citizenship skills that CEOs do not practice in their work.


The business model has seeped into aspect of American life and culture (e.g., higher education) where they do not belong. 
Christopher Mulcahy | 9/23/2011 - 12:55pm

$447 billion for 1 million jobs?  Let’s see—here’s my calculator.  Wow, that’s $447,000 per  job.  Golly, that sounds like a high number.


In his 1969 book Motivating Economic Achievement,  David McClelland determined through empirical studies that  motivational factors were very significant in the subsequent economic success of individuals.  He identified  an “achievement mentality” as a prerequisite for successful participation in any economy.   That reminds me of the Horatio Alger books children read at school during the late 19th and early 20th century in America, suggesting to our children that with hard work and exemplary lives success could be achieved.  I seem to remember that period was characterized by dramatic economic growth.    I wonder if motivational instruction like that for individuals would cost less than $447,000 each? 


My own  empirical observation of my fellow citizens, though, suggests many are poorly motivated, economically speaking.  I often observe unemployed fellow citizens who dress antagonistically,  exhibit little interest in acquiring job skills, and often show up late.  ( I even wonder if some of them own an alarm clock.  What if owning an alarm clock were a prerequisite for social benefits?)


Could it be that we have ignored individual motivation and responsibility?  Are “prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance” really  hinge characteristics for personal success?  Paying attention in school?  Learning a skill? Getting up early?  Avoiding association with losers?


But, I know.  Brilliant European philosophers have debunked the personal responsibility theory of economic advancement.  We need to focus on social classes (and “social justice”).  People should not really be personally responsible.   Government is where the responsibility lies,  and since I am personally economically successful I should take out my checkbook when called upon.   Others have needs, after all, and the federal government is in the best position to assess those needs and then meet them.  I guess.


Still, $447,000 each?

Norman Costa | 9/23/2011 - 12:38pm

@ The Editors:

I am despairing of leaders who will exemplify a spirit of unity. What we have is a core of political nihilists, sufficient in numbers to thwart any reasonable legislative program for the benefit of all the country.

Rather, they are locked in incoherent ideology and would rather see the present system disintegrate and cease to exist. Only then could room be made for what does not yet exist, nor is yet defined except in a list of negatives: No government on our backs; no interfering in an ecstatic religion of free enterprise; no one to tell me what I can or can't do; no responsibility for the poor, the sick, the disabled, the uneducated, the migrant seeking a livelihood, and any who did not work their way out of indigence or prepare for disaster.

There were times when believers and non-believers could inspire others to sacrifice by the example of their moral code of generosity, selfless service toward others, and caring about our neighbors. Where are the inspirational leaders who could light a fire in the hearts of people who are waiting for someone to show the way? 

I am despairing of leaders who give of themselves and get others to do the same.
William Jaenike | 9/23/2011 - 12:37pm

The best thing that President Obama could do for jobs is to stop campaigning for 2012 and be the nation's CEO that he was elected to be. He could instruct Federal agencies under his command to get out of the way when private enterprise tries to build facilities such as natural gas hydraulic fracturing wells that promise to make America energy independent while creating more than a million highly paid jobs. For quasi-independent agencies such as the NLRB and the SEC, he could use the influence of his Presidency to get them on board.
    We're on the verge of an economic collapse. Unleashing the private sector from overly stringent regulation so it can concentrate in a war on poverty and our balance of payments problem is our only way out. That cannot be done without his hands-on involvement. The just-formed United State Energy Security Council has almost all the right people to make a real difference; it's missing only one. 

Maria Fasulo | 9/23/2011 - 12:18pm
I don't usually comment and I am giving my age away:  but  Right On!
I think this editorial should be required reading for every Representative and Senator.  And I think they should all be ashamed at the way they are dangling the hopes and dreams of so many Americans. 

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