Friday, January 3, 2014

What We Need For Jobs in 2014, Beyond the Numbers

United States unemployment has improved greatly from a few years ago.  But with our country over 19 million jobs short, we have far to go.  Beyond just plain “a lower jobless rate,” or even “a lower AJSN,” how can we measure our progress in 2014?  I propose ten things. 

First, from Congress, we need to start a WPA-style infrastructure project.  In the quality of its bridges, highways, and airports, America has dropped, in an international engineer’s survey, from first to fourteenth.  Conservatives should not tolerate our country falling behind, and liberals should back an effort both necessary and employing millions.  If Congress finds itself capable of bipartisan cooperation, this should be at the top of its list.

Second, from President Obama, a better understanding of inequality.  The most brutal gap is not above people earning the minimum wage, it is between them and those with no work at all.  Taking steps sure to decrease their number through forced anti-market pay increases will not help Americans become more equal, only less likely to have a job.

Third, longer unemployment benefits.  For months on end, 4.1 million Americans have been out of work, officially, for 27 weeks or longer.  Time was that people not finding work after this much time were not really motivated, or at least were doing the wrong things, but not anymore.  It is cruel and unreasonable to let the tail of people abusing the system wag the dog of so many who keep trying, keep playing by the rules, and still cannot legally support themselves.

Fourth, more food stamps.  We need to make sure our countrymen are eating.  Abuse, with ATM-style cards and IDs, is minimal.  As with unemployment compensation, these are not the times to stop or even inhibit something filling such a basic need.

Fifth, we as Americans need to take a serious look at guaranteed income.  Would it work?  Could it be paid for?  What are the alternatives?  A few columnists have addressed it – will more do that this year? 

Sixth, we also must examine the possibility of charging for online resources.  Free may not be best.  As with guaranteed income, paying for something new – and possibly large – may be hard to swallow, but it may be the only way for Americans to benefit from contributions, and their own tracked personal information, they provide for free as well. 

Seventh, shorter work hours.  We have been stuck on 40 per week since the days of the Duesenberg, and there is no profound reason why that must continue.  Less time on the full-time job was a stock science-fiction prediction as late as the 1980s, and hardly anyone half a century ago would imagine it hasn’t happened.  I don’t advocate forced limits on anyone, but if the federal government and a few prominent companies went to, say, 30 or 32, many more would follow.  Not only would it allow for vast numbers of jobs to be created, but it would improve the quality of our lives.

Eighth, employers, it’s time to stop waiting for perfect people and hire who you need at market rates.  There is no skills shortage, only a company training shortage and a company pay shortage.  If you can’t find the workers you need, it’s your fault, not theirs.  Instead of complaining to the media, pick the best applicant – many are underrated these days – and fill your business need.

Ninth, we all need to realize the jobs crisis is permanent.  Too many observers danced around this possibility in 2013, looking for explanations for this so-called five-year incomplete recovery in such fantasies as “a hidden recession, unspecified government action or inaction, or something artificially caused by the 1%, when the answer is right in front of us.  Automation, globalization, and efficiency go only one way, and the baby boomers, with generally fine health and poor savings, aren’t going to bail us out by retiring en masse.  That is, unless they have to, from a lack of jobs. 

Tenth, civil rights leaders, I call on you to unite with the rest of us to solve the number-one problem your constituency, whatever it is, faces – not enough jobs.  That was a pillar of Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington – if that was good enough for him, it should be good enough for you.

At year’s end, a blog post will look at how we did on these ten points.  Happy New Year, all – but remember, the clock is running!

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