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Should the government play a role in job creation?

President Barack Obama speaks at Greensville County High School in Emporia, Va., on Oct. 18, 2011 during the second day of his three-day American Jobs Act bus tour to discuss jobs and the economy. According to the latest Gallup poll, most Americans do believe the government should play a role in job creation.

Kai Ryssdal: It's the 8th of March, good to have you here on this Thursday. That makes tomorrow Friday, which will bring with it the much-anticipated February unemployment report. One could guess about what the number will be, but much safer to wait.

While we do that -- wait, that is -- there was some news today on jobs, actually, and the prospect for more of them. This afternoon, the House -- by a wide, bipartisan majority -- passed a couple of bills designed to make it easier for small businesses and startups to hire new workers.

Stands to reason jobs and getting more of 'em in this economy are a good thing, but what do people really think? Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup, the weekly segment he joins us for is called Attitude Check. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: It's good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So we were in Atlanta on Monday, and we talked to a bunch of college kids about the economy and jobs and how worried they are. And at one point, I asked them what the government ought to be doing to create jobs -- should the government be creating jobs? And this kid, he's like 21, 22, he graduates in four months, and he said, 'Yeah the government should do something, but maybe not everything.' What's the wider data tell us on that?

Newport: Well that's very interesting. There's broad agreement of American public opinion that the government should do something which leads to the creation of more jobs -- that's our No. 1 problem. It's the No. 1 thing people say they're going to take into account in voting on the president and so forth. So there's a broad agreement, but the devil is in the details.

Ryssdal: Always is.

Newport: Like what your college student said, absolutely. You know, creating jobs can go all the way from like Franklin Roosevelt to very indirect kind of tax incentives and so forth. And we find, generally speaking, that Americans in our data say indirectly they like the idea of the government creating jobs.

Ryssdal: So when you say "direct" government provision of jobs, that's like the government making the jobs themselves, yes?

Newport: That's right. We had about 17 percent of Americans, when we said 'What's the best way to create more jobs in the U.S.?' who said something "very direct," like infrastructure work -- spend actual government money building a new bridge and that creates jobs or more stimulus money. That's what we call "very direct" government involvement. And that's to be differentiated from things like changing the tax structure or reducing government regulation, things along those lines.

Ryssdal: Yeah. Do they want national-level efforts on this? Or do they want state and local governments to do their bit?

Newport: Ah, key question. Americans love anything that is small and local. We actually found that we ask a very interesting question: How much confidence do you have in each of the following? We read a list, in terms of their advice or their opinions on how to create jobs, and at the very top of the list: small business owners, believe it or not. Very top of the list. Followed by local business leaders, and then state governors, and then mayors and other local officials -- all local. And then finally, you get to President Obama, but then below that are executives at big corporations and leaders in Congress.

Ryssdal: Do they care what kind of jobs they are? I mean, of course they want interesting, high-wage jobs, but does it matter if it's in manufacturing or clean-tech or IT or what?

Newport: Good question. We've not really parsed it to that level, so I'm sure every American has a different idea about what the ideal job that she or he would want to have is, but generally speaking, the broader term is Americans just want a job.

Ryssdal: Riddle me this, though, Frank: Can we presume from this data that people think the government is not doing enough to create jobs?

Newport: That's an interesting question, and I would say yes. We actually come at it a different way, and the American public says we have a big problem here and we want the government to do something about it. So I think the indirect difference is yes, Americans would say at this point, the government's not doing enough to create jobs.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport, he's the editor-in-chief of Gallup. The segment we do with them about their polling data every week is called Attitude Check. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: Talk to you soon.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.
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The "prevailing" (or ascribed) American sentiment that 'government should be doing more to create jobs' seem a little schizophrenic, given the fact that the other, countering sentiment seems to be that government should be smaller, and NOT be in the business of hiring more people, expanding operations, or creating more projects that private contractors may bid upon and complete, nor having any direct hand in 'creating jobs'. If job-creation was possible, would not capital have jumped at the chance to do so? Are we actually pointing to the value of the government as a jump-starter and economic stabilizer by asking them [us] to "create" jobs?! Schizophrenic.

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