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Closing the Jobs Gap Requires Much Bigger Thinking

David Callahan

Today's job numbers show that the economy continues to creep in the right direction -- but also that job creation will remain a paramount challenge over the next few years. The problem is not just the millions of working-age adults who remain unemployed or under-employed. It's also that the labor force is growing every month by some 100,000 would-be workers, according to the Hamilton Project -- or over a million people every year who need work.

The Obama Administration has trumpeted all the jobs created since the President took office in January 2009 -- more jobs, actually, than were created under President George W. Bush. But the fact is that, as the Hamilton Project points out, the overall "jobs gap" has continued to grow even as the unemployment rate has fallen as more workers have poured into the labor force and the economy has way underperformed.

And that jobs gap will continue to grow if the recovery continues at only a creeping pace. Today's job numbers of 171,000 new jobs may look pretty good compared to some past months, but consider the Hamilton Project's assessment earlier this year:

If the economy adds about 208,000 jobs per month, which was the average monthly rate for the best year of job creation in the 2000s, then it will take until February 2020—8 years—to close the jobs gap. Given a more optimistic rate of 321,000 jobs per month, which was the average monthly rate for the best year of job creation in the 1990s, the economy will reach pre-recession employment levels by April 2016—not for another four years.

Read those numbers again: Even if we enter another boom comparable to the Clinton years, it will still take four more years to get back to where we were in 2006 or so. And, if things continue on the trajectory they're on now, millions of people who want and need jobs will be left out of prosperity for another eight years.

Both these outcomes are unacceptable. What's scary, though, is that neither presidential candidate has articulated a plan that would get the U.S. economy to do as good, or better, than it did during the 1990s. In case you haven't noticed, President Obama has not made a forceful case for more stimulus on the campaign trail or talked up the elements of his most recent big plan for job growth, the American Jobs Act, which was DOA last year in Congress.

The Obama campaign did release a blueprint for the economy and jobs last month, but -- weirdly -- it didn't mention most of the elements of the American Jobs Act. No mention of infrastructure investments or aid to battered state governments, for example. Yet it did tout Obama's pledge to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. was not too far off base in calling the plan a "joke."

Now, maybe campaigns aren't the place to reveal serious plans. But it's disturbing that the President hasn't started to build the case for more stimulus. In any case, the fact is that American Jobs Act -- even if fully implemented -- would only make a small dent in the jobs gap.

Bigger thinking on jobs is still needed.