Bypassing the jobs impasse in Washington

If the president and GOP dig in their heels and wait for 2012 to decide who’ll get their way on creating job, others will have to fill the void.

Americans agree that creating jobs is the nation’s priority right now. But their two major political parties are far from agreed on how to do it.

President Obama has proposed a jobs creation bill that would be paid for in large part by tax hikes on the wealthy. It’s a move that has mostly pleased his own political base but one that stands little likelihood of passage by a GOP-dominated Congress pledged to no new taxes.

Voters next fall may be able to weigh two strongly contrasting views of how to grow the economy and create jobs. A clear choice then could help the next Congress and president set a clear agenda.

But that does nothing to help now. As former President Clinton said recently, “Conflict is great for politics, great for news coverage, lousy for economic policy.... We’ve got to go back to a cooperative environment where everybody kicks in a little.”

Since cooperation doesn’t seem to be in either party’s 2012 political playbook, Americans who need to find work may be stuck waiting out the impasse.
The former president’s Clinton Global Initiative – an annual gathering of dozens of heads of state (Mr. Obama will address the group), business leaders, and charitable groups – is meeting in New York this week. Among its goals are to find creative ways to stimulate job creation in the United States and around the world, using cooperative means between government and private efforts.

Some projects look promising. The AFL-CIO, Mr. Clinton notes, is putting some of its own pension funds into projects that retrofit buildings. The labor group will earn more than it probably could investing in the stock market while at the same time creating jobs for its members and others. “And they’ll be in partnership with business instead of having a Washington political fight with them,” Clinton says.

Both political parties have yet to address how they are going to help American workers find their way in the new jobs marketplace, which often demands training and skills they simply don’t have. Right now nearly 2 out of 5 hiring managers say they have open positions they can’t fill – they can’t find candidates with the necessary skills, according to a recent nationwide survey by CareerBuilder, the online job-hunting site.

While the nation as a whole didn’t create any new jobs in August, high-tech Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area added 7,200. Other pockets of strong employment center around places like Cambridge, Mass., home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Pittsburgh, home to Carnegie Mellon University and nanotech research; and San Diego, host to institutions with a bevy of Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is offering subsidized real estate and $100 million in infrastructure upgrades to any university or consortium that builds a world-class science and engineering campus in New York City. He sees the future and wants New York to rival Silicon Valley as a technology center.

That’s the kind of cooperation between government and the private sector that can work.

It would be nice if Washington could catch the spirit of cooperation, too.

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