All during the debate in Congress whether to extend unemployment benefits to those without jobs, there was an 800-pound gorilla in the room that nobody noticed: The fact that you can't find a job if there are no jobs to be found.
The lack of jobs creation -- private and public sector -- has been the great sinkhole of Obama's economic stimulus plan. Sure it's been swell to get those federal tax credit on home purchases, and his energy rebates if you install solar panels atop your house have been nifty as well. But let's get real folks. Show me the jobs. There aren't many. A few teachers got un-pink-slipped because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. And I'm delighted for the guys working on the public works project that is tearing up my recently repaved street to install a drainage pipe that should have been installed before the street was repaved, but whatever. (Memo to CalTrans: Think it might be possible to stop closing the road during peak commuting hours? Those people who still do have jobs occasionally like to get to them on time.)But the bad news is that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November. It was the third week in a row that unemployment claims rose, suggesting that private companies are again laying people off. Offering tax incentives to companies that create jobs hasn't overcome the fear that the economy is still too unstable.
No houses are being built, so construction jobs are few. State and local governments are also cutting jobs. Large corporations are turning to contracting out work on a freelance basis, using labor when and only when they need it and not having to pay benefits like pensions and health insurance. Forget paid vacations or sick time.
It's time to get a little creative. If you create jobs, people will have money to spend. Handing them an unemployment check for an average of $300 a week may stave off eviction and put some boiled potatoes and onions in the soup pot, but that compassionate measure offers no long-term solution.
Create jobs. Repair every pothole in America. Clean up every polluted beach. Staff every classroom and build some new schools where they are desperately needed. Open medical clinics in the ghetto. While you're at it, re-open the ones in the suburbs that were forced to shut. Open some factories to produce next year's flu vaccines, fund some new research labs and cure cancer already.
Wait! Where will the money come from all this? Well, we're doing so much of this in Afghanistan, so maybe we can redirect those funds and do it here instead.
Yeah, I know I'm naive. So tell me your better idea.
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