Today President Obama will give a major economic address in Illinois, the first in a series of speeches designed to refocus the national conversation on job creation and the struggling economy.
This is a mandate Obama gave himself—much of his re-election campaign last year was focused on economic recovery and specifically growing the economy “from the middle out,” a theme he will revisit today. It’s been a crazy year, with some expected distractions from the jobs debate, like immigration reform, and some unexpected ones, like a massive gun control fight and the NSA surveillance saga—but Obama is rightly returning to arguably the nation’s biggest immediate problem, the 22 million Americans who cannot find work and the sagging economic recovery. [...]
Here’s what he could do:
Order fair treatment for private contractors. A study by Demos released in May found that nearly 2 million private sector workers on contract with the federal government are paid less than $12 per hour, and many also suffer under inadequate labor and safety protections. Congressional action would be required to comprehensively address the problem, but Demos noted that Obama could do quite a bit by executive order—with the stroke of a pen, he could order federal agencies to take all possible steps to ensure companies comply with relevant labor and employment laws. The study said such an order “has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of the low-wage workers that federal agencies depend on to accomplish their goals.”
There’s certainly a precedent for such an order—most famously, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11246, which mandated equal opportunity and affirmative action hiring for all companies working with federal contractors. And this is something the White House has already promised to do—back in 2010, The New York Times reported that Obama was “planning to use the government’s enormous buying power to prod private companies to improve wages and benefits for millions of workers.” That never happened, but it should now.