As many have observed, the administration's emphasis has shifted from health–care reform to job creation. As one of the long–term unemployed, that is a priority change that I welcome. I feel it is long overdue.
I have said this many times before, but there is no reason not to say it again at this time. Health care reform is important. It needs to be done. But we have to put people back to work first.
Now, I understand that the government can't create jobs. But it can do things to encourage the creation of jobs.
As the major component of his strategy, Barack Obama has resurrected a promise from the campaign trail. About 15 months ago, when Obama entered the final three weeks of the campaign, he pledged to an audience in Ohio that he would give tax credits to businesses that hired Americans in 2009 and 2010.
But, apparently, the idea was abandoned when it failed to get adequate traction in Washington. I'm not an economist, but I felt, at the time, it was the only really promising proposal for dealing immediately with joblessness that I had heard from Obama. And I was disappointed when it was not included in the stimulus package.
Why wasn't it? I don't know the details. The credit that Obama promised was $3,000. Apparently, that amount was not sufficient. "If you have a company and you're selling fewer shingles, $3,000 isn't going to get you to hire somebody when your sales are shrinking," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said more than a year ago.
Well, that sounds logical. And that logic seems to have been bipartisan. Both Democrats and Republicans apparently objected to the tax credit proposal.
I don't know if Obama and his advisers dug in their heels to any extent when the subject was being discussed. I don't know how hard they fought for it. But the fact that it wasn't included in the stimulus qualified it as a "broken promise," according to PolitiFact.com.
Did they raise the ante before giving in — even with a proposal of a superficial increase so they could save face and still preserve their political capital for their health care reform battle? Or were they more committed to the idea than that? Did they say, "Well, if the amount of the credit isn't enough, how much would be?"
If they didn't, perhaps that is their strategy now.
I can only assume that this tax credit proposal is an idea in which Obama has some faith because he brought it up again last month in a speech at the Brookings Institution. But, at the time, I heard nothing about the amount of the tax credits.
Well, the inadequacy of $3,000 tax credits once again appears to have been an issue. So now, Obama is proposing a $5,000 tax credit per employee hired. But small business owners again say it isn't enough.
So let me ask you something:
- If health care reform has been put on the back burner, which apparently it has,
- and if the focus now is on job creation, which apparently it is,
- and if Obama is serious when he says that he wants to encourage small businesses to hire the unemployed and he believes in this proposal, which apparently he does, even though it was shot down a year ago,
- and if this tax credit idea is the most significant weapon he has in his arsenal, which it appears to be,
- and if small businesses are saying the amount of the tax credit that is being proposed is not sufficient, which apparently they are,
- why not raise the amount of the tax credit to an amount that will make it worth a small business' time and expense to bring on new hires, even hires who have little or no relevant experience?
That's the problem, isn't it? These aren't normal circumstances. I didn't major in economics, but my best guess is that a textbook recession would be one that lasts a few months, unemployment takes a short and modest hit and everything follows a clear and recognizable pattern.
This recession is 2 years old, millions of jobs have been lost and there doesn't seem to be anything remotely recognizable about the pattern that may or may not be leading us into a recovery phase. Contrary to what many economists have said, most Americans say they believe a recovery will not begin for at least another two years.
In other words, we're in uncharted waters here.
To be sure, another stimulus package may yet be necessary. Americans have been through many recessions, and economists may tell you that they follow certain patterns, but each is different, it seems to me, each is one of a kind. It may be mild, it may not. Anyway, this is, by almost every account I've read or heard (never mind my own), the most severe economic downturn that nearly all adults living today have experienced. It may require a unique and extensive combination of measures before it is finally tamed.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the most urgent challenge to encourage job creation? And, apparently, the point behind this particular proposal is to encourage job creation by offering a financial incentive for businesses. But if the incentive isn't large enough, what good is it?
Of course, the greater the tax credit is, the more checkpoints may be required. Every effort should be made to prevent businesses from taking advantage of these credits — and the people they are designed to help.
I believe we should do whatever must be done, spend whatever amount must be spent to put the unemployed back to work. It surely will add to the debt in the short term, but won't that be made up for rather quickly by the increase in working Americans who buy the goods and pay the taxes and are able to be full–fledged contributors to the economy once again?
Won't these job credits help make them better citizens — which, in turn, makes a better America?
Isn't that the ultimate goal?