Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama, shown last week arriving at a town hall meeting sponsored by MTV and BET, has renewed his call for $50 billion to improve roadways and airports. But with nervous lawmakers worried about their jobs, that may be a tough sell.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Americans are thinking a lot about jobs this fall as they try to decide which members of Congress should keep or lose theirs. Unemployment is expected to get worse before it gets better. And as the government's controversial stimulus program winds down, Washington shows little sign of mounting another rescue.
Nearly 1 in 10 Americans is out of work. The fraction who are out of patience is even higher. President Obama is hearing from frustrated job-seekers nearly everywhere he goes. He heard from Adam Hunter this past week at a town hall meeting, sponsored by MTV and BET.
"There was a bailout that you supported. There was stimulus that added to our deficit. But yet it seems as though our unemployment rate still rises. Now we have young people who are trying to find work. But it's hard," Hunter told the president.
Recovery Isn't Coming Fast Enough
Young people aren't the only ones worried. At a backyard meeting in Iowa last month, Obama talked about the letters he gets from people who are too young to retire but feel too old to start over.
"A bunch of those letters talk about, 'I'm 50 years old, I've worked hard all my life. I've looked after my family. The plant closed, or the office shut down, and it's very hard for me now to find work,' " Obama said.
That's not likely to change soon. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported an unexpected increase in first-time claims for unemployment.
Private employers are hiring, however. In fact, they're hiring faster than they did after the last recession. But economist Robert Dye of PNC Financial Services says so many people were laid off during this downturn, the recovery will be measured in years, not months.
"It's not going to come fast enough for anyone," Dye says. "It's going to be slow movements, hopefully in the right direction. We're going to be talking about the lingering after-effects of the Great Recession for years to come."
See what NPR's Ken Rudin and other political watchers forecast for the races in Florida and elsewhere at the Election Scorecard.
Nervous Politicians Are Wary Of Action
Congressional candidates have been talking a lot about jobs, but even when Congress was in session, lawmakers weren't doing very much. That's left it up to the Federal Reserve to try to goose the economy with the limited tools it has left.
After passing the big stimulus package of tax cuts and government spending last year only to see unemployment keep rising, Congress has grown wary of additional measures that would add to the near-record deficit. Only after months of debate did lawmakers finally approve additional aid to states, extended unemployment benefits and a bundle of measures designed to help small businesses. Even an extension of most Bush-era tax cuts has been held up by partisan wrangling over the top 2 percent.
This past week, President Obama renewed his call for spending $50 billion to improve roadways and airports. He says the plan, which he first raised on Labor Day, would create jobs for construction workers, nearly 1 in 5 of whom is unemployed.
"This is work that needs to be done. There are workers who are ready to do it. All we need is the political will."
With nervous lawmakers — especially Democrats — worried about their own jobs, political will is in short supply.