As budget takes shape job creation should be front and center

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As Americans, we value work as the backbone of economic opportunity, but for the nearly 23 million people  who are currently unemployed or underemployed, work and the economic opportunity it affords can be elusive. Included in this number are 12 million unemployed workers, 8 million part-time workers who want a full-time job, and another 2.6 million workers who want a job, but have given up looking. Corporate profits have fully recovered and Wall Street is experiencing record-setting closings, but on Main Street, wages are stagnant and jobseekers still outnumber job openings by a ratio of three to one. That’s why jobs and the economy remain the number one priority for Americans — and the number one job for Congress should be putting America back to work in good jobs.

Of the budget proposals that were considered, each purported to address job growth in some way, with the proposals dividing into two camps. For one set of budgets — the Ryan Budget and the Republican Study Commission — the crisis revolves around national debt and long-term deficits. The answer to this crisis is to aggressively cut spending even if jobs are lost in the short term. Proponents of these budgets contend that reducing the country’s spending and debt will spur offsetting economic growth in the private sector.
 
For the other set of budgets, Senator Patty Murray’s budget and the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget, the crisis is the immediate job deficit. And the answer to this crisis is government investment that will promote job creation, for example, through investments in infrastructure.

Only one of these approaches begins to address our ongoing jobs crisis.  An analysis from the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Ryan budget, which leaves “the sequester” in place, would cost us two million jobs through 2014. In addition, two-thirds of the plan’s projected $5 trillion deficit savings come from cuts in programs that serve our most vulnerable. The targeted programs include such items as food assistance, medical care, education, and job training – all vital supports for unemployed and underemployed workers and their families.

In contrast, the Murray Budget and Congressional Progressive Caucus budget keep the focus solidly on job creation while also addressing the deficit.  These budgets allocate between $100 billion and $1.1 trillion to targeted spending on infrastructure and job training while preserving vital social service programs. The Caucus budget advocates for a full employment economy and would create an estimated seven million jobs.

And what about the American people, whom Congress represents? Americans come down squarely on the side of jobs. A recent Gallup poll finds jobs are so important to Main Street that a majority of respondents, regardless of political party affiliation, support government spending to create jobs. A full 7 out of 10 of respondents favored government spending on infrastructure projects and other forms of job creation.

In the coming weeks and months, as Congress works to reconcile the Ryan and Murray budget visions, it must not forget this jobs crisis nor abdicate its responsibility to address it boldly. While steps should be taken to address the deficit over the long term, millions of jobless Americans urgently need government to make investments that will enable them to fully participate in the economy, now. The American people have spoken. Let’s hope the Congress listens.

Dixon is a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.