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Weekly Audit: Jobs, jobs, jobs

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By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama invited leading economic thinkers to a job creation summit on Thursday to help combat the worst unemployment crisis in decades. The stakes couldn’t be higher: If Obama can’t build momentum for robust legislation that will create jobs, the unemployment rate could remain in double-digits all the way through 2011.

In Salon, Andrew Leonard highlights some positive comments Obama made at the jobs summit. In an exchange with The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner, Obama said that the long-term budget deficit is an issue, but that the best way to reduce that deficit is to spur economic growth. When the economy is growing, the same tax rates reap greater returns for the government.

If the U.S. dramatically slashes economic support programs to clamp down on the deficit in the short-term, the economy is going to shrink. About two-thirds of the economic growth in the third-quarter of 2009 came from intiatives related to Obama’s economic stimulus plan. If we cut back on stimulus, we lose more jobs and make the long-term deficit worse by hampering growth.

We’ve faced this kind of dilemma before and seen what happens when you focus too much on the deficit, as Katrina vanden Heuvel emphasizes in a column for The Nation. “In 1937, just as there was some recovery from the Depression, the debt hawks swooped in and there was a return to the deficit reduction model,” vanden Heuvel writes. “Things went south again. We don’t need a repeat of that.”

So Obama doesn’t want to attack the deficit at the expense of jobs, which is good. But it’s problematic that the President is still at the summit stage on the most politically pressing issue for Democrats, as Terence Samuel explains for The American Prospect. If the labor market doesn’t start getting better soon, voter dissatisfaction with Obama’s economic platform will impact other critical policy initiatives, from health care to climate change.

“The president is up against an unpredictable clock,” Samuel writes. “With his approval rating hovering around 50%, he can’t be sure how long Democrats in Congress will stick with him on anything if there is not some noticeable improvement in the jobs picture soon. The urgency on the job situation is not lost on Democrats in the House and Senate who must defend the seats of 18 Democrats in 2010.”

Most of the pressure Obama now faces is to create jobs, not just save them. That’s because his stimulus helped get the unemployment rate under control—we’re still losing jobs, but not as fast as we were in January. But as Aaron Glantz notes for New America Media, the risk of heavier job loss is still present.

State governments are up against very difficult budget constraints, thanks to tax losses related to widespread layoffs and foreclosures. If they don’t get help from the federal government, states will be forced to cut expenses, which means shedding more jobs. Glantz highlights a recent conference call with AFL-CIO leaders who warned that state and local governments could be forced to cut up to one million jobs in 2010 if Congress and President Obama fail to enact a major jobs bill.

David Moberg envisions an ideal jobs bill for Working In These Times. We need a major aid package to state governments, modernizing our schools and transportation network, a public-sector job program to fund important work in our communities, and a tax credit for companies that hire workers. The whole thing would only cost $400 billion and would create 4.6 million jobs. That could be enough money to move unemployment out of crisis-mode. Right now, about 15.4 million workers are out of a job. Half those workers have been put out of work over the course of the recession. Creating 4.6 million jobs would make an enormous difference.

And while the $400 billion price tag may sound like a big number, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to our $9 trillion fiscal deficit. Going back to The Nation: As vanden Heuvel notes, the whole package could be paid for with a modest tax on risky Wall Street securities trading.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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