Mort Zuckerman: The Jobs Picture Is Far Worse Than It Looks

Millions are suffering unemployed, but government relief has made them invisible.

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Imagine the sense of futility that must overcome people who month after month fill out forms, go for interviews if they are lucky, and end up as they started with nothing to show, because there are approximately 3.3 unemployed workers for every job seeker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Millions of families are one layoff or one medical emergency away from going into bankruptcy. It is harder to find work today than it has been in any previous recession, and most of the newly available jobs don't match the pay, the hours, or the benefits of the millions of positions that have vanished during this recession.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Obama Turning the Economy Around?

It typically takes 25 months to close the employment gap from the employment peak near the start of the downturn, yet this time, over 60 months after employment topped out in January 2008, non-farm unemployment is still more than 3 million jobs below where it started. The great American dream is no longer a house in the suburbs. It is now a secure job—and any job will do.

The growth rate of 1.5 percent has been tepid, for it is only about one half what is typical in the fourth year of a recovery. That is primarily because the recovery is not built on real job creation but on record monetary easing by the Federal Reserve and record stimulus by the federal government. The result is slack in the U.S. economy. We are coping with a near 6 percent output gap, which is as high as we have ever gotten even in the most severe recessions.

Paradoxically, hundreds of thousands of employers say they can't find workers with the skills they need in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Education means skills, skills bolster productivity, and productivity is the key to economic success. So this shortfall in education is the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Extend Federal Unemployment Benefits?]

Clearly overdue is a plan to recover from the recovery. The government must take the lead and arrange the marriage of private and public capital to regenerate real growth. The way to do it is the old-fashioned way we used to do it, by investing in projects that enrich our productive capacity and employment through the well-known multiplier effect. Not to do that is to inflict still further damage on the economy. How long can we put off repairing and renewing? The investments should be tolled through user fees so as to produce revenues to service a good part of the debt.

There is so much to do to get America back to the powerhouse it was:

  • Invest in the national electricity grid and in a high-speed internet grid; in bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, and high-speed rail; in fracking; in education for science, technology, engineering, and math; and in training programs tied to unemployment.
  • Add thousands of annual visas for foreigners with science and technology skills to work here, while allowing international graduates to stay rather than return home or settle elsewhere to compete against us.
  • Simplify or abolish the regulations that foreign companies cite as the principal impediment to investing and creating jobs here.
  • Broaden our tax base and get rid of loopholes, deductions, and credits and the inherent corruption related to them so as to enable lower marginal tax rates.
  • [Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Obama's Corporate Tax Plan A Good Idea?]

    Ordinary Americans are looking for leadership and renewal. They know that a job is the most important family program, the most important economic program, and the most important national program that America could put in place, and, by this standard, we have failed.

    • Read Peter Roff: Obama's Minimum Wage Hike Will Raise Unemployment
    • Read Ryan Alexander: The True Source of Our Deficit Woes
    • Read David Brodwin: Obama's State of the Union Glossed Over Our Real Economic Problems