Focus on Jobs: The Next Step in National Economic Recovery and State Fiscal Relief

On Tuesday, December 8th, President Barack Obama delivered an address to the Brookings Institution on the need for increased focus on the job crisis that is affecting so many working families across the country.  His proposals included key programs administered by the states, such as investments in infrastructure, clean energy investments, the extension of unemployment insurance, and ensuring that states are not forced to lay off teachers, police, and other vital service providers.  This would be complemented by direct federal help such as tax breaks for small businesses and extension of COBRA subsidies for the unemployed.

The President stated, "[f]or even though we've reduced the deluge of job losses to a relative trickle, we are not yet creating jobs at a pace to help all those families who've been swept up in the flood.  There are more than 7 million fewer Americans with jobs today than when this recession began.  That's a staggering figure, and one that reflects not only the depths of the hole from which we must ascend, but also a continuing human tragedy."  The speech followed a job summit the President convened last week that featured CEOs, small business owners, labor leaders, and nonprofits sharing insights on methods to foster economic growth.

Reports Detail the Jobs Crisis and the Need for Expanded Recovery Programs:  While a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study documents that the recovery plan has created or saved as many as 1.6 million jobs, millions of unemployed Americans are still in need of help. 

This need for new jobs highlighted by the President is echoed by a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), entitled Jobs Crisis Fact Sheet.  Among their findings:

  • 15.4 million Americans are unemployed;
  • 38.3 percent of unemployed have not had a job in over six months;
  • 8 million jobs were lost during the recession, which includes 1.6 million lost in construction and 2.1 million lost in manufacturing;
  • 1 in 10 Americans are unemployed;
  • 1 in 6 Americans are underemployed;
  • 15 states are experiencing double-digit unemployment.

These bleak figures are exacerbated by state fiscal uncertainty that is forcing lawmakers to consider cuts to vital programs, such as education and health care.  As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) indicates in Additional Federal Fiscal Relief Needed to Help States Address Recession's Impact, total state deficits in FY2011 and 2012 will likely exceed what can be covered by ARRA funding by over $260 billion.  Furthermore, "[p]resuming they will get no more fiscal relief, states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product.  That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year."

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with "I think it’s vital states get additional stimulus. If no more aid is forthcoming, then (states will) be cutting jobs, programs and raising taxes”¦ because their fiscal situation continues to deteriorate more rapidly.  Tax revenues are still falling at a very rapid clip.  So states are going to have a huge hole beginning in 2011 when the current stimulus runs out.  I suspect they’ll be cutting spending and raising taxes long before reaching that cliff."

For the unemployed specifically, the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress highlighted in their report Keeping a First Line of Defense for the Jobless that benefits for the unemployed provided by the ARRA recovery plan, from extended unemployment benefits to COBRA health care premium subsidies, have been critical in providing help to jobless individuals and injecting cash into communities hardest hit by unemployment.  The report outlines how these programs have helped the economy and why the programs should be renewed.

Renewed Support for States and the Unemployed Needed:  Accordingly, any federal job creation and economic growth plan must be accompanied by further fiscal relief for states.  Progressive States Network, along with a wide range of allies, have called for a second round of federal stimulus to assist burgeoning state budget gaps.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - Additional Federal Fiscal Relief Needed to Help States Address Recession's Impact
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - New CBO Report Finds Recovery Act has Preserved or Created up to 1.6 Million Jobs
The Economic Policy Institute - Jobs Crisis Fact Sheet
The Economic Policy Institute - Plenty of need for a second stimulus
NELP and Center for American Progress - Keeping a First Line of Defense for the Jobless
Progressive States Network - Job Losses and State Fiscal Crises: Time for More Federal Stimulus Spending - Economist Mark Zandi: On stimulus, jobs, state finances, inflation, and the year ahead
The White House - The Big Picture and Some Next Steps on Jobs
The White House - President Obama Announces Proposals to Accelerate Job Growth and Lay the Foundation for Robust Economic Growth