Where are the jobs? This is the burning question of our time because we have so many people unemployed. The economy has a mix of good signs--such as continuous private sector job growth for 15 straight months and manufacturing up for 22 months now. This is great news, but we still have a high unemployment rate. So the questions remain. Where did the jobs go, and when will they come back?
We have to look in the rearview mirror to clearly see where we are now. The first devastating blow was when US corporations sent jobs overseas. The US Chamber of Commerce, which is different from the local Chambers, has been an enthusiastic proponent of sending jobs overseas, and also happens to be the top group making outside expenditures in 2010, running ads and engaging in other activities to sway the electorate about candidates and issues. They have too much influence on policy, and for too long, Congress has not forcefully acted against unfair trade policies and created enough incentives to keep American jobs in America.
During the Bush era, we lost 1/3 of our manufacturing jobs. However, the biggest whack came in October 2008 when Wall Street bankers did themselves in, taking down small banks and workers and retirees along with them. America lost more than 700,000 jobs just in the month of December 2008, the last full month before Barack Obama became president. The economy was reeling, and it looked as if the world was on the verge of another depression. Thankfully, policies enacted by the 111th Congress and President Obama pulled us back from a depression, but we lost eight million jobs, and that has created great suffering.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, called the Stimulus, was passed by Congress in February 2009. Congress faced a very difficult choice. It raised the already largest debt in history that President Obama had inherited from the previous administration, but it also created or saved jobs and funded projects around the country. The Congressional Budget Office recently confirmed again that the Stimulus did help by keeping the unemployment rate from climbing even higher. I always believed that 1/3 of the stimulus money should have been used for a jobs program to build and repair infrastructure. This would have served two purposes--it would have brought jobs and money to our communities and rebuilt our failing infrastructure, so I view that as a missed opportunity.
Congress also passed and President Obama signed the HIRE Act and the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act. The latter bill brought more money to community banks, which in turn lent it to the small businesses that had trouble getting credit from the very big banks who had created the mess in the first place. Congress beefed up the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the SBA worked very closely with businesses around the country. Small businesses still need help, so I am very concerned that the current US House Majority has actually cut the SBA budget and programs to help small businesses.
The situation is not as dire as it was in 2008 and 2009, but high unemployment persists and is wreaking havoc on many families. What is the solution? There are many steps America must take to address unemployment. First, the current Congress has to start working on a jobs bill. They have not passed a single jobs bill out of the House yet—not one! At the same time, they are trying to pass Free Trade Agreements with Columbia and Korea, which will instead cause more job losses.
We need to provide tax incentives for manufacturing to keep jobs here. We need to make things instead of always importing them. We need to stop providing subsidies for companies that take jobs overseas. We need to find and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy that hurts business. And yes, government still has a role to play in job creation and preservation. There are many public sector jobs that are essential to the health, safety, and well-being of our communities. We should not be shortsighted and eliminate those jobs. We still have children to teach, fires to put out, criminals to catch, roads to fix, bridges to repair, airports to maintain, etc.
We should not dismantle this great country by dismantling our great workforce. If we truly want to end unemployment in our country, we must set aside our political differences and concentrate on what is best for our people, not for our politics.
Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011. She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.