For most Americans, having a decent job is a matter of basic survival. Politicians of every stripe claim to have the answer — cut taxes, invest in education, develop “green jobs,” balance the budget, spend more on bridges and roads. The slogans are catchy, but how do they compare to the reality?
Here are some of the basics we found out in researching this book:
- Recovering from the 2008-2009 recession is just the beginning. The Great Recession cost us more than 8 million jobs, but we were in trouble even before then. The country lost as many jobs as it created during the last decade.
- Recessions like this one leave long-lasting economic scars. Workers who lose their jobs during deep recessions slide down the economic ladder, and many never make up their losses. Young people who enter the workforce in a recession typically have lower incomes throughout their careers.
- Plus, the country needs more jobs than ever just to keep up with population growth. According to government estimates, we’ll need jobs for some 167 million people by 2018, up from about 150 million today. That works out to another 100,000 to 150,000 jobs per month just to run in place.
- And then there’s technology and globalization. They have redefined how work is done, and even more importantly where it is done. Americans have long been worried about manufacturing jobs going overseas, but we’ve gone far beyond that. With the power of the Internet, American workers at every level face competition from workers worldwide.
- In the past, education was a shield—the better educated you were, the more secure you were economically. But that’s out of date. Even professional jobs can now be done overseas or replaced by technology. That includes lawyers, doctors—even economists.
- The political debate is way too narrow, centering almost exclusively on taxes, and it glosses right over the truly tough choices. What kinds of tax cuts really have the best track record on job creation? And given our massive budget deficits, will cutting taxes do more harm than good?
- Thanks to movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, ideas like reducing income inequality and controlling the country’s debt are front and center, and many people assume that addressing them will help on jobs. Both problems are real, and the country needs to talk about them, but it’s far from clear that solving either will do that much to help on jobs issue.
- Jobs are and should be one of the very top issues in the 2012 presidential and Congressional campaigns, but Americans need to be more realistic about how much federal government can really do. Jobs are created by businesses, cities and states, and individuals’ own decisions and actions. Government can set the stage for job creation, but other parts of our society play major roles too.