A jobs agenda for Main St.

What’s wrong with this picture? Fifteen million to 17 million people are out looking for a job today and can’t find one. Yet we are told that the largest financial institutions and the big investment banks are making record profits, and that the economy has grown nearly 6 percent in the last quarter. 
The plain fact is that we won’t have real economic recovery in this country until we are creating jobs and giving people an opportunity to go back to work. There is no social program that is more important than a job that pays well.

So, how do we put people back to work? I understand that the government, in most cases, does not create jobs. But it can create the type of economy in which businesses have confidence to expand and hire new workers. 

There are some immediate ways for the government to put people to work. Initiatives like summer jobs programs for youth will put young people to work for the summer, and funding highway programs to build and repair highways and bridges will provide an incentive for contractors to hire more people to work on those projects.

But, there are other proposals that can and will provide the extra incentive for businesses to hire new workers. As the economy begins to improve, the extra incentive from a wage tax credit might be just the tipping point needed to allow a business to bring in new workers. The tax provision called “expensing” can incentivize small- to medium-sized businesses to acquire the capital goods they need, making it possible for manufacturers to hire new people to produce those goods.

The largest job generators in America are small- and medium-sized businesses. They are the key to an economic rebound and the growth of jobs.

However, they are going to need traditional sources of lending and access to capital to accomplish that expansion and we need to address the problems that now exist in that area.

I chaired a hearing in the Senate recently that had owners of three small- to medium-sized businesses testify. All of them were profitable businesses. All of them were ready to expand and to hire new people. But none of them had access to the capital they needed. Their traditional sources of lending have dried up even though these businesses are profitable and have had relationships with their lenders for many, many years.

If we don’t solve the problem of access to capital for our small- and medium-sized businesses that want to expand, we are not going to get the number of people back on payrolls that will make this a real economic recovery. 

There are proposals in Congress that I support to use some TARP funds to create a lending pool that small- and medium-sized banks will have access to for lending to businesses looking to expand. We need to pass that legislation as part of our jobs agenda.

There are some in Congress who believe the government should do nothing.

They cared a lot more about the economic health of the biggest financial institutions in America than they do about the millions and millions of Americans who can’t find work.  In my judgment those are misguided priorities. 

The disparity between Main Street and Wall Street highlights the disconnect between those who finance production and those who produce in this country. The largest financial companies, several of which steered this country into the ditch, are now making record profits and paying record bonuses.

And yet, even while they are engaged in some of the same risky practices that caused this deep recession, they are not engaged in the kind of lending that our country needs for smal- to medium-sized businesses to be able to expand.

This nation’s economic engine works best when the broad middle class have jobs that pay well with decent security. The middle class has become the consumer base that drives our economy and gives it strength.

A successful jobs agenda won’t happen overnight. It will take a lot of work, many pieces of legislation, and cooperation from political parties. But the cornerstone of any successful jobs agenda will be to create an environment that allows small- and medium-sized businesses to grow and create jobs.

Right now, there should be no higher priority for our nation.

Dorgan serves on the Appropriations Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.