Jobs returns to front burner

A job seeker looks through job listings at the East Bay Works One-Stop Career Center on Jan. 9, 2009, in Oakland, Calif. The unemployment rate in the U.S. surged to 7.2% in December, reaching its highest level in 16 years.

Tess Vigeland: So Congress has been on recess and President Obama was on vacation last week. But that all changes next week, and Washington seems poised to focus on how to get Americans back to work.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on jobs just after Labor Day. And Republicans are previewing their own plans. For the next several days, Marketplace will be looking at what it will take to fix the employment problem. David Gura starts us off today with the big picture.


David Gura: The unemployment rate has been around 9 percent for two years now. Over the last few months, things have improved a little bit: Companies have hired about a 100,000 workers every month.

Linda Barrington: But we're getting better at such a slow pace that it doesn't feel like getting better.

That's Linda Barrington. She's a labor economist at Cornell University. Barrington says politicians -- especially President Obama -- need to explain to Americans why things are so bad. Then the president needs to suggest some solutions.

Barrington: He needs to be out there more actively than he has been, arguing more persuasively that there is a role for the federal government here.

And that is going to be at the heart of this debate. On one side are economists who say we should spend more federal funds.

Heather Boushey is chief economist at the Center for American Progress.

Heather Boushey: One of the smartest things that we could do right now, and certainly the number one thing I would be looking for in this jobs package, is spending money on infrastructure.

To fix broken bridges and pave roads -- projects that would need workers right away. Boushey says there's also a strong argument for reforming taxes, giving breaks to companies that invest in clean energy or hire new workers.

Boushey: The point is to push those firms that are sort of on the margin of making that decision over the edge into actually hiring someone.

Republican plans center on spending cuts, and the GOP's floating other ideas -- nearly none of which involves federal spending. They want to push through trade deals and reform the corporate tax code.

Boushey: With all these, of course, the devil is in the details.

And we should get more details starting next week.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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