Fixing the economy, 12 jobs at a time
Like a lot of people, I expected that Obama’s speech from the factory floor of ZBB Energy in Menomonee Falls would be mostly a rehash of his Racine stump from this past June. And it mostly was, as the President has fine-tuned his “Summer of Recovery” message and is sticking to it. It reads: Job creation has been slow, but the stimulus is working. We’re losing fewer net jobs, and more are being created by far than before the stimulus spending began. Oh, and the future of economic growth in the United States lies in clean energy leadership.
So we didn’t learn anything new Monday. But Obama’s appearance did afford the opportunity to take another look at job creation, the bane of current global economic recovery efforts.
A little trip about 18 months down memory lane is a good place to start. In February of 2009, the White House released a state-by-state summary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s projected impact on employment. The statement estimated saving or creating a nationwide total of 3.5 million jobs, including 70,000 in Wisconsin, about 26,000 of them in southeast Wisconsin.
Lots of things in ARRA haven’t gone as planned, job recovery among them. And somewhere along the way the numbers became confused, requiring new formulations and revised new formulations and, ultimately, a loss of faith in job creation figures altogether. It’s not easy to count the number of jobs attributable to ARRA, but it is easy to see why it’s nearly impossible to keep track. Unemployment numbers do not account for discouraged workers (those who have given up looking) or those who have dropped off the unemployment rolls; public sector numbers were temporarily inflated by census jobs but now those jobs are gone; temporary stimulus saved some public jobs for a year and now, perhaps, another, but what about thereafter?
It’s a dark time to be an American worker, subject to the fallout from years of poor decisions and short-sighted actions by corporations, legislators and, yes, labor unions. And it’s a dark time to be president, possibly the darkest since Franklin Roosevelt inherited a somewhat similar mess. The Congressional aisle has never been more divided; the flow of money out of the Treasury never more dispersed among so many competitive priorities, and people’s faith in the system more non-existent.
Obama came to Menomonee Falls to talk about clean energy and the indomitable spirit of the American worker (and also to campaign for Democrats in the upcoming elections). At ZBB, his message was polished, his tone upbeat and his pacing appropriately brisk. But the man looked beyond tired. And no wonder: substantively, the last year and a half comes down to a single paradox.
So while Obama, in his role as our nation’s leader, envisions millions of new jobs in the next decade, today at ZBB he had this news to share:
“Because of the steps we’ve taken to strengthen the economy, ZBB received a loan that’s helping to fund an expansion of their operations. Already, it’s allowed ZBB to retain nearly a dozen workers. Over time, the company expects to hire about 80 new workers, too.”
Yep, you heard it right. ZBB, the poster child for Obama’s first Milwaukee-ish visit, could potentially save and/or create about 90 jobs “over time” in a state with almost 241,000 unemployed workers. Kind of knocks your socks off if you think about it very hard.
Sigh. At this point, it’s not even worth getting angry about. Many of us have criticized Barack Obama at some point for running too soon (and winning, for Pete’s sake), but really, who could possibly have been ready for this? History will have the last word on Obama and this era, and I hope the ending is good. For now, though, we’ll have to take our victories where we find them. And at this point that means 12 jobs at a time.