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The U.S. has a jobs problem. The unemployment rate is stuck above nine percent. Private sector job growth is anemic, and business groups are stepping up their criticism of the White House and Congress.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a jobs summit in Washington this afternoon and posted an open letter demanding that something be done to improve the business climate.
NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce building is virtually across the street from the White House, there's a small park between them, and the building is plastered with these giant red, white and blue banners that spell out the word: jobs. It's a not-so-subtle reminder of what is quickly becoming the Obama administration's Achilles' heel, and it was a rallying cry at today's summit.
Mr. TOM DONOHUE (President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): The need to create more than 20 million new jobs for America over the next 10 years, it's why we're here today.
KEITH: Tom Donohue is president of the chamber. In his keynote address, he said the climate for business these days is bad, and recent actions by Congress and the White House are making matters worse. He points to health care reform, financial regulation and talk of climate change legislation.
Mr. DONOHUE: And all of this has injected tremendous uncertainty into our economy, and uncertainty is the enemy of investment, of growth and of jobs.
KEITH: Of course, Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration don't see it that way. They say these bills and others will create jobs. Donohue is less optimistic. He says small business owners can't get the capital they need to grow. Others are struggling just to stay afloat. Many larger corporations actually have plenty of cash.
Mr. DONOHUE: But they're sitting on it. They cannot in good faith and responsibility to their shareholders incur the heavy obligations of expanding and adding to the payroll at this time.
KEITH: And that's how you get stagnant job growth. Small businesses are the biggest engines of job creation, but most owners are like Jim Wordsworth. He hasn't hired anyone in two years. Wordsworth owns several small businesses, including a catering company that supplies food for White House events like the Easter Egg Roll.
Mr. JIM WORDSWORTH (Owner, JR's Goodtimes): I don't like the atmosphere in here. They're gray clouds of a business, and it's just a dark day.
KEITH: What is it going to take for you to hire again?
Mr. WORDSWORTH: I guess, if there was one word I would use, I would use confidence. I just have lost confidence in so many things.
KEITH: One thing Wordsworth says would really help is also at the top of the chamber's agenda. A series of Bush-era tax breaks are set to expire at the end of this year, and the chamber wants them extended, at least for a couple of years.
Stan Anderson is leading up the chamber's jobs campaign.
Mr. STAN ANDERSON (Legal Adviser, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): We'd like the president to say that that's the policy they're going to follow. We think that would have an enormous psychological impact.
KEITH: The chamber's jobs strategy also calls for reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, cutting the deficit, expanding exports, even allowing more logging in national forests.
President Obama held his own meetings with business leaders today to talk about what the administration can do to encourage employers to start hiring again.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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