Time to get the country working

Across the country, the burning question is: How do we build jobs?

If thereâÄôs a national issue that college students should have their eyes on during the next few years, itâÄôs jobs. As college degrees continue to lose value and unemployment levels hold firm, the hard truth is that graduates face what is arguably the worst job market since the Great Depression. The $787 billion federal stimulus package turned a year old this week, and though both the left and the right are trying to spin its performance in their favor, everyone knew from the beginning that its true effectiveness would be extremely difficult to assess. Though nonpartisan assessments say the stimulus package has certainly saved some jobs, we canâÄôt know what would have happened if it had never been passed. However, the Dow Industrial aside, we do know that many Americans are going through real hardship, while broader economic recovery remains slow or nonexistent. The question that now plagues job-seekers, employers and all levels of government is: What can we do to bring back American jobs? The stimulus bill showcased one prominent and popular job-creation and preservation strategy: $288 billion, or about a third of the bill, is categorized as âÄútax benefits.âÄù The idea here, echoed in Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs recent Minnesota budget proposal, is that tax cuts not only provide short-term relief for citizens but bolster a private sector that would otherwise have to cut employees to stay afloat. Inexplicably, Republican leaders, such as VirginiaâÄôs Rep. Eric Cantor, are calling stimulus money âÄúwasted,âÄù despite tax cuts being at the core of their own partyâÄôs recovery strategy and in spite of job-generating projects being awarded to their states. Many republicans, such as Pawlenty, are calling for further tax cuts, though opponents on both sides of the aisle argue that state and national ledgers canâÄôt withstand the further loss in revenue. Some postulate that weâÄôve done enough for the economy and call for patience above all. Fiscal conservatives argue that further deficit spending is ludicrous and that the free market needs time and freedom to rebound and resume growth. ItâÄôs probable that the stimulus will simply take more time to bear fruit; after all, only a fraction of the money has actually been doled out, though most of it has at least been allocated. The trouble is that any argument for inaction is hard for leadership to swallow, given the enormous popular pressure being generated by unemployment and underemployment. It appears too much to hope that substantial solutions will come from a superlatively jaded and partisan Congress. A televised debate on the jobs issue recently proposed by GOP senators âÄî an apparent retort to the health care debate to air later this month âÄî doesnâÄôt seem likely to clarify or elevate the discourse. Meanwhile, Democrats, despite their strong majority, arenâÄôt proposing strong jobs legislation and arenâÄôt giving credit to the urgency Americans feel on the subject. Anemic jobs proposals by democratic leadership during the last two weeks lack momentum and arenâÄôt particularly pleasing to anyone. On the state level, DFL senators have proposed $50 million in tax incentives aimed at encouraging startups, increasing building efficiency and renovating historic buildings. Proponents of the bill say it would generate thousands of local jobs while making the state government more sustainable. This proposal highlights the fact that âÄúgreen jobsâÄù âÄî a key talking point of President Barack ObamaâÄôs campaign âÄî have been curiously absent from the national discussion. The enormous and permanent transformative potential of green-sector jobs remains largely untapped. Altogether, hundreds of billions of dollars have been poured into jobs across the nation, many of which focus on the short term. Whatever form further efforts take, they must look beyond Band-Aids into the long term. Legislators must recognize that we have a chance here not merely to save the economy but to build a new one.