More reasons for Obama to go big on jobs


As the Associated Press reported this morning:

Employers added no net workers last month and the unemployment rate was unchanged, a sign that many employers were nervous the U.S. economy is at risk of slipping into another recession.

The Labor Department says total payrolls were unchanged in August, the weakest report in almost a year. It’s the first time since February 1945 that the government has reported a net job change of zero. The unemployment rate stayed at 9.1 percent.

And notice something inside the numbers. This is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics report itself:

Government employment continued to trend down over the month (-17,000). Despite the return of about 22,000 workers from a partial government shutdown in Minnesota, employment in state government changed little in August (+5,000). Employment in local government continued to decline. Since employment peaked in September 2008, local government has lost 550,000 jobs.

I added the italics to make a point: The Obama administration’s original stimulus plan wasn’t big enough, but it did create and save millions of jobs, and one reason was the assistance it gave to state and local governments to prevent layoffs. That assistance is running out, and if there is one big “job-killer” out there, to use the Republicans’ favorite phase, it is all those government cutbacks in states and counties, cities and towns around the nation.

We don’t know for certain how much debate there still is inside the administration about how big the president’s jobs proposal will be. But those who want to make it bigger are right, and these numbers should bolster their position.

This isn’t just a matter of politics and the next election. For the sake of the country and the jobless, President Obama really needs to change the debate and make clear that it’s not just liberals who think the economy needs a boost right now. The ranks of those who believe in more stimulus include business people, investors and economists of many political stripes. Now more than ever, Obama needs to think and act big.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog. He is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio, ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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