Today there are almost 29 million people in the United States for whom the economy has failed to perform its most important function: providing enough jobs to go around. This reality is dimming the lights on the American Dream. It threatens to steal from an entire generation the dignity that comes from a hard day’s work. Our political leaders have effectively accepted this situation, turning from the moderate job creation strategies of 2009-2010 to an austerity agenda that will cost as many as 1 million more jobs.

Meanwhile, the corporate sector has largely recovered from the recession — with profits at an all-time record of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter of 2010. The private sector is currently cash-rich, yet all indications are that businesses are still reluctant to begin hiring or investing in major capital improvements. Nearly a year and half past the official end of the Great Recession, it’s clear that the private sector is not going to provide jobs for everyone who needs them and wants to work.

The scale of the jobs crisis is large: Almost 14 million active job seekers remain unemployed. Another 6.6 million people who are not actively looking for work (and therefore are not counted as unemployed) say they want jobs. Among workers who are lucky enough to have jobs, 8.4 million are employed part-time but want full-time jobs. The jobless are not a perfect mirror of our society — the toll is much greater among less educated workers and communities of color.

In order to return unemployment to 4.5 percent and restore consumer demand, approximately 8.2 million additional jobs must be created. At the pace of current job creation, it would take at least 20 years to reach full employment. The toll joblessness has had already on communities and families has been severe. We can no longer afford to wait idly for recovery to happen. Instead, we must fuel a recovery by putting America back to work.

Our direct public jobs proposal is conceptually simple: the public sector can directly create jobs quickly, serve vital community needs and target those hurt most in this economy. The benefits are multiple. Americans without jobs get meaningful work until a true recovery takes place, and communities get urgent and long-ignored needs met. Our nation ensures that the talents and skills of our workers do not atrophy, and our families and communities recover from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.