There’s no sugarcoating it: The recent employment report was a disaster, with just 18,000 net jobs created in June. And there’s no reason to think the coming months will be any better.

And yet all politicians in Washington can talk about is deficit reduction. There is a frightening disconnect between the problems Americans face and the problems our lawmakers are trying to solve.

The federal deficit is a very real, very serious issue. But it’s not the most serious or most urgent problem the nation faces now. Unemployment is.

Last month, 14.1 million Americans who wanted a job couldn’t find one. More than 6 million of them had been out of work for six months or more.

These are catastrophic numbers, and not just for the immediate future. A study of workers after the 1982 recession showed that even decades later, they were earning as much as 20 percent less than peers who remained employed. That’s terrible news for the jobless, but also for the country’s long-term fiscal health, because lower earnings mean lower tax revenue and a higher deficit.

Some in Washington seem to think that slashing public payrolls will somehow unleash private-sector job growth. This is lunacy.


There are now 577,000 fewer public-sector workers than there were at the peak in August 2008, the result of declining tax revenue for state and local governments. Can anyone really believe that 577,000 unemployed cops, firefighters, teachers and janitors are a boon to the private sector?

Of course not. Growth is spurred by demand, and firing those workers removed consumer demand from an already weak economy. All of this comes as the Federal Reserve’s purchase of $600 billion in Treasury bonds winds down and the effects of stimulus spending wane. The economy needs a boost — now.

President Barack Obama seems to have bought into the premise that austerity will help the economy. That’s very disappointing. But he nevertheless has proposed some good solutions, such as extending the payroll tax cut, passing patent reform, approving trade deals and creating an infrastructure bank. These ideas would have attracted bipartisan support pre-tea party, but Republicans now oppose anything that would boost the economy in the short term.

Ambitious ideas such as a big infusion of infrastructure spending or another round of aid to state and local governments seem laughable in this political environment. And yet they’re exactly what’s needed so that teachers, police and construction workers can keep not only teaching our kids, protecting our communities and so on, but also buying clothes, cars and houses, spurring demand for more workers.

Obama injected some stimulus spending into the tax deal he negotiated in December, including the original payroll tax cut and an extension of unemployment insurance. Friday’s grim jobs report should shock him into insisting that short-term help for the economy be part of any deficit reduction deal.

The fate of millions of Americans — and Obama’s presidency — is on the line.

Editorial by the San Jose Mercury News distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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