Needed: jobs

January 27, 2004

THE BUSH administration has been lousy for workers: Millions of jobs have disappeared, and a growing number of Americans have given up seeking work or fallen from higher-paying manufacturing jobs to lower-wage service jobs, furthering the long-term trend toward greater income inequality in America. This so contrasts with rising corporate profit margins and stock prices that "jobless recovery" is almost an understatement.

President Bush is banking that job growth will come in time for the fall presidential election, as the tardy but inevitable result of the corporate revival. But even his hopeful advisers predict modest job gains, perhaps only barely ahead of labor-force growth.

Mr. Bush's supporters can plausibly argue that lost U.S. jobs and stagnant wage growth stem from a global transition beyond White House control, one resulting from soaring productivity and ballooning production capacity. But the president also squandered an opportunity to put America to work by opting for tax cuts instead of stepping up aid to states and localities to ease their fiscal crises and reinvest in their schools and transportation systems.

His record tax cuts were not only poorly designed for job growth, they will cost the Treasury $3 trillion over the next decade if he succeeds in making them permanent - thereby making certain such investments wouldn't be affordable. By stark contrast, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are rightly talking about rolling back those tax cuts, at least for the well-off, to pay for expanding such federal job-creation efforts.

In his State of the Union speech last week, the president did announce a "Jobs for the 21st Century" initiative, essentially $500 million split between high school programs and community college-based worker training. That sounded right: A key factor in American unemployment and underemployment is a lack of skills. Even in this downturn, skilled jobs have gone unfilled; training programs, in partnership with businesses, can be effective.

But once again for working Americans, Mr. Bush's rhetoric exceeds the realities. The $250 million to the nation's more than 1,100 community colleges is less than paltry; training advocates believe much of that money will be diverted from other federal jobs efforts, including some now sending funds to community colleges. And this is consistent with Mr. Bush's repeated moves before now to cut federal job training efforts, which have been dropping since 1998.

In an era of growing productivity and global competition, America needs economic, industrial and tax policies that foster jobs - including substantial investment in infrastructure and worker training, which would pay dividends for decades. Instead, Mr. Bush is offering misleading talk on job creation and substantial federal investment in feathering the nests of the well-off.

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