Millions and millions hired?

BY almost all accounts, George Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican convention last week was one of his finest moments. He had a good speech, and he gave it well. As never before, he seemed presidential. But one promise rang false: his pledge to create 30 million jobs in eight years.

This is the kind of thing that gives political rhetoric a bad name. Officials of the Reagan administration's own Labor Department have called the goal ``impossible,'' and Bush aides are backing away from it, describing it as ``an aspiration'' rather than a literal goal.

The United States economy has done particularly well at creating jobs - much better than Western Europe or Japan. And they aren't all hamburger-flipping McJobs, either. Ironically, one of the few false notes in Ann Richards's keynote address to the Democrats last month in Atlanta came when she complained that the jobs created over the past eight years were largely low-paying, with no future.

But remember that when the recovery began in 1982, unemployment was at its worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. If we are to give what the GOP is now calling the Reagan-Bush administration credit for all this job creation, we need to discount for jobs lost during the preceding recession.

And even if we accept the 17 million jobs figure at face value, it's an extraordinary reach to extrapolate to 30 million jobs over the next eight years. It's like saying that because Johnny has grown to six feet tall in his first 16 years, he will be 18 feet tall by the time he's 40.

And should those 30 million jobs appear, who will fill them? There simply aren't the warm bodies out there. ``Full employment'' may seem an uncompassionate concept to those worried about the chronically jobless in troubled communities. But statistically, the US is at or near full employment.

Women and the baby-boom birth cohort have poured into the work force in such numbers in recent years that there aren't many left to recruit. Older people could continue to work through their 70s, but how many want to do that?

That leaves immigrants to make up the slack. Illegal immigration continues apace, despite the new Simpson-Rodino law. But for a Bush administration to keep its 30 million-job pledge, the border gates would have to be held wide open.

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