As one of the 10.3 million unemployed people in America, I'm having trouble getting on board with the $775 billion stimulus plan that President-elect Barack Obama is proposing to Congress to help stimulate the economy and get people back to work soon.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, as Obama has called it, would add 3 million jobs over the next two years and is a good start, but somewhat shortsighted. Spending billions immediately on public works projects and infrastructure such as renovating roads, bridges and schools is a good way to get some people employed again, but it won't meet the long-term employment needs of the nation once those roads, bridges and schools are finished.
And while I and many other former white-collar workers aren't averse to picking up a shovel, it doesn't look like his plan for "shovel ready" construction projects has much job help for people outside the construction trade.
He's also proposed a "Making Work Pay" tax credit of $500 for eligible individuals and $1,000 for couples. While getting up to $1,000 is a bonus everyone would be happy to get, it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem. I've received federal tax stimulus checks in the mail in the past, and like a lot of people, I quickly spent it to pay off bills. I didn't go out and buy more stuff to stimulate the economy, as President Bush hoped Americans would do with the rebate. The same type of Visa-bill paying, or maybe even putting it in a savings account, will happen again when Obama is president.
Instead of sending me a check for $1,000, I'd rather see most of the money pooled for employment retraining for white-collar workers, and some for other jobs. Six months ago when I was laid off I went to a career center run by the California Employment Development Department for assistance, because my former employer didn't offer any as I was shown the door. Other than some help with resumes, interview techniques and the like, there wasn't any help there to retrain me for another profession after leaving a dying one -- newspapers. There was plenty of training offered for electricians and other trades, but not much else.
The federal government should give states more money for such training and find ways to encourage people to get the tools they need to go into expanding areas such as green energy, social media, the Internet and many other areas.
There are some parts of the plan that would help the unemployed immediately, and they're smart moves that could save some people from losing their homes or health care. One policy change would subsidize employers' expenses for temporarily continuing health insurance coverage for laid-off workers under the Cobra law. The coverage is extremely expensive and forces people to take any job just so they can get medical care. Obama's plan would also allow workers who lose jobs that didn't come with insurance benefits to be eligible to apply for Medicaid.
Obama's plan is only for two years and is meant to get things moving fast, but a longer-term view is better if the goal is for people to stay in their jobs and contribute to the economy. The housing crisis, bailing out auto makers and banks, and other problems that led to the recession didn't happen over the past two years, and it will take more than thinking about the next two years to solve the problem.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com