WASHINGTON -- Even the Scarecrow from the "Wizard of Oz" would know that this is a no-brainer. Of course we need a federal jobs program to get us out of the Great Recession. It's not just heartless conservative Republicans who can't acknowledge it; it is also cowardly Democrats who just can't face facts.
Fact One -- the unemployment rate isn't only 10.2 percent.
Counting those working part time for economic reasons and "discouraged workers" in addition to the unemployed, it was 17.5 percent in October, nearly one in five workers.
Fact Two -- it's not just how many people are unemployed, it's for how long. The average duration of unemployment last month was a record 26.9 weeks, up more than seven weeks since last year. A measure combining the number of jobless and the length of unemployment is also at a record level. This is why there are a record number of foreclosures, why bankruptcies are rising and why this holiday season may be anything but jolly.
Fact Three -- while it's a federal problem, it's a bigger problem depending on where you live and where you are in the labor market. The "official" jobless rate in Michigan in October was 15.1 percent, nearly four times the rate in North Dakota.
Workers in high unemployment states also generally have been out of work much longer than those in states with lower jobless rates. It's why the unemployment rate for folks aged 16-19 is almost 28 percent and why young workers starting out find it so hard to find that first job.
There are very real policy proposals out there to deal with the realities of America's unemployed.
The AFL-CIO has a very specific five-point program; (1) extend the lifeline of supplemental unemployment benefits, food assistance and COBRA health care benefits, (2) infrastructure repair of schools, roads and energy systems, (3) aid to state and local governments to ensure delivery of vital services; (4) direct investment in hiring people in distressed communities in child care, tutoring, rehabbing or removing abandoned homes and necessary services; and (5) putting Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to work in local communities by funding small and medium size community banks so that they can offer financing to small and medium-size local businesses. This is a comprehensive program that merits serious consideration.
ADA has championed what we call the "Corps" budget. By increasing funding -- by a significant amount -- to Job Corps, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, we can offer hope and opportunity to recent high school and college graduates, providing training, work opportunities and a stable first step into the job market. In addition to relieving some of the pressure -- and competition -- in the labor market, this proposal has the advantage of funding existing programs with built-in infrastructure and programs that are more than shovel-ready.
No matter how you slice it, only the government can act in recessionary times like these. And while the budget deficit is an issue -- as is its Big Brother, the federal debt -- they are minuscule in comparison to the current jobless rate.
If we can help America get back to work, then payroll taxes and income taxes will help to solve the issue of the deficit. If it is a jobless recovery, then there is no real way of dealing with the debt in the foreseeable future. Jobs are the answer.
The fiction that we can somehow wait for consumers or the private sector to bail us out of this jobless recovery is as much a fantasy as the "Wizard of Oz." The man behind the curtain is us.
Millions of Americans want our country to succeed and our elected leaders to lead. All they need are the brains, the heart and the nerve.
Michael J. Wilson is the national director at Americans for Democratic Action (www.adaaction.org) and Paul B. Manchester is an economist who formerly worked for the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. Readers may write to them at ADA, 1625 K St. N.W., Suite 210, Washington, D.C. 20006.