US task: Put jobless into jobs
With biggest job losses since 1974, Obama plans massive public works.
Needed: a job plan.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Suddenly beset by the worst monthly layoffs since 1974, Americans are starting to struggle with how to find employment for the millions who are losing jobs in the recession.
Should government spend billions on retraining programs, create tax incentives for businesses that hire new workers, fund green infrastructure projects, or just provide massive Depression-era make-work programs?
The answers to those questions will involve a key issue: whether the unemployed will have the right skills and be in the right location to take advantage of new jobs.
President-elect Obama has described the outlines of a recovery plan that would create more than 2 million jobs. On Saturday, in a weekly radio address, he cited plans to upgrade roads and schools as part of what would be the biggest infrastructure investment since the 1950s.
Mr. Obama's comments follow the Labor Department's report last Friday that the United States lost 533,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent in November. Over the past three months, job losses have totaled 1.2 million, a statistic that implies that a sharp contraction of the economy is under way.
The size of the November layoffs shocked economists. The layoffs spread to almost every sector – from manufacturing to services, which accounted for 70 percent of the layoffs.
"This is stunning, in the sense of a deer caught in the headlights," says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh. "We are seeing a total collapse in consumer confidence in the economy, and business is laying people off and not hiring."
Many economists expect the Obama administration to present a massive economic stimulus program. Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, N.J., anticipates a $500 billion to $1 trillion plan, possibly spread over two years. "It's going to be targeted to the kinds of programs that have a multiplier effect on the economy," he says.
One target is likely to be construction, which has been hard hit by the recession. At its peak in 2007, about 1 million people were involved in heavy construction. That number is now down to 946,000, according to the Department of Labor.
For every $1 billion in government infrastructure spending, 28,000 new jobs are created, according to a federal study quoted by Kenneth Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America. But only about 25 percent of those jobs are for construction workers. Another 25 percent are supplying industries, such as for concrete or lumber. The rest are jobs like retail and others created indirectly because workers are spending money.