Lots of Solutions to Long-Term Jobless Crisis. But Bipartisan?

June 30, 2014

A panel discussion hosted by the Congressional Full Employment Caucus took on the plight of long-term jobless workers. The big push — and push-back — as you undoubtedly know, has centered on the need to renew their federal unemployment benefits.

But even if — big if — Congress does renew them, long-term jobless workers will still face daunting challenges in the labor market.

These have everything to do with how long they’ve been unemployed — and virtually nothing to do with anything else.

A recent analysis by panelist Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute found that long-term unemployment rates were considerably higher last year than in 2007 for every group — age, education level, race/ethnicity, gender, prior type of occupation and industry.

So “it’s not something wrong with the workers,” she said. And her fellow panelists agreed. Their main business, however, was to identify “proven bipartisan solutions to the crisis.”

I wish I could say that I came away believing that the ideas they teed up would, in fact, gain bipartisan support in Congress.

As panelist Judy Conti at the National Employment Law Project said, there is a bipartisan consensus on the problem to solve — not enough jobs for everybody who needs one.

But that’s about as far as it goes. Conti mentioned what are generally partisan splits over how job-creating measures should be paid for — by closing corporate tax loopholes, for example, or by cutting other federal spending.

The split, I think, goes deeper than that. We’ve got Republicans going on about the job-killing effects of the Affordable Care Act, other regulations that are strangling businesses, etc.

Democrats, on the other hand, talk of more federal investment — in infrastructure, education, clean energy and other cutting-edge technologies. They’d like to channel more money to state and local governments for police and firefighters.

They want to change provisions in the tax code that effectively subsidize the costs of off-shoring jobs, as well as others that enable corporations to significantly reduce — or altogether eliminate — their federal tax liabilities.

And, of course, they want long-term unemployment benefits renewed — not only because jobless workers and their families need them, but because they create and/or preserve jobs.

This is because people who receive the benefits generally perforce spend them on basic needs. So demand for goods and services rises. More demand translates into more jobs — and more jobs into more demand.

This, I take it, is the same basic premise underlying the call for more investments. It also underpins another solution Shierholz mentioned — action that would deter other countries from manipulating their currencies so as to make their exports cheaper and imports from the U.S. costlier.

What’s not altogether clear is whether more jobs would solve the long-term unemployment crisis, unless there were so many more employers needed to fill that they couldn’t continue to screen out applicants who’d been out of work for some time.

Happily, panelists also had some thoughts about how to level the playing field.

One already underway is somewhat similar to the subsidized employment programs most states created, using money from the now-expired TANF Emergency Contingency Fund that was part of the Recovery Act.

Two other solutions are already pending in Congress. An uphill battle there. One would prohibit employers from using credit checks as a screening tool. It’s not specifically for long-term jobless workers, but for obvious reasons, they’re more likely than others to fall behind on their bills.

The other would undo a Supreme Court ruling that makes it extraordinarily difficult for older workers to prove age discrimination — apparently a reason that so many who become jobless remain so.

Though I’ve referred to these solutions as leveling the playing field, the last two could also be viewed as preventive measures.

Another explicitly endorsed by two panelists (and a third who couldn’t participate) would also tend to prevent unemployment — and thus the risks of its becoming long term.

It’s commonly known as work sharing. And federal funds are temporarily available for states that adopt it — or modify their existing programs to comply with the Department of Labor’s standards.

Under work sharing, employers may reduce workers’ hours, with their consent, rather than lay them off when business is slow. What the workers lose in wages is partly made up for by unemployment benefits.

This is obviously better for workers than getting fired. And better for employers because they don’t lose experienced workers — and incur the costs of hiring and training when business picks up again.

Work sharing isn’t new, but we’ve been hearing more about it, thanks to the Great Recession — and ongoing labor market woes. It’s often cited as the reason Germany’s unemployment rate didn’t spike, though its economy was hard hit.

Even though our unemployment rate is inching down, there are still about 1.5 million layoffs a month, Shierholz told us. So work sharing could still save a lot of grief.

And it enjoys support from lead economists at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and the decidedly left-wing Center for Economic and Policy Research. Bipartisan in this respect, at least.

Lastly, Conti reminded us that jobless workers used to have to pick up their unemployment benefits checks. Office staff told them about suitable openings and sometimes helped them in other ways.

Such individualized, in-person services have dwindled — at least partly due to cuts in federal funding for the One Stop Career Centers.

A greater investment in these services would more than pay for itself, NELP says — in unemployment benefits saved, tax revenues collected and reduced social and human costs.

We see a glimmer of bipartisan support for more robust reemployment services in the new “bipartisan” bill to renew long-term unemployment benefits, as in the bill that recently died in the House.

Ultimately, I suppose, it all depends on what we mean by “bipartisan.” A number of the panelists’ solutions have — or could gain — support from some conservatives. But substantial support from both parties in Congress is a whole other matter.

 

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What Could Cut the Poverty Rate Right Now

February 20, 2014

A nice, short video from the Half in Ten campaign tells us five things we can do to cut poverty today. They’re actually four things Congress can do — and one that it shouldn’t.

They’re all modest, middle-of-the-road proposals, reflecting both pending legislation and priorities identified in the President’s latest State of the Union address. That alone should tell you that they won’t have an easy time getting through Congress, though polls indicate bipartisan support from voters.

Here they are, with supporting details from the video and others I’ve added.

Create Jobs. What Half in Ten has in mind here are investments in renewable energy, other “growth sectors” and infrastructure projects, e.g., repairing our pot-holed roads and crumbling bridges, improving public transport.

We’re still 7.7 million jobs shy of the number needed to bring the unemployment rate down to its pre-recession level — 600,000 fewer than when the video was created, but still a daunting number. The recommended investments would help close the gap — as might the next thing, according to many economists.

Raise the Minimum Wage. In other words, Congress should pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which has been awaiting a vote for about a year and a half now.

As I’ve written before, the bill would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and then link it to a commonly-used consumer price index so that it wouldn’t again lose purchasing power due to inflation.

The bill would also, over a longer period of time, raise the federal tip credit wage — now and since 1991 stuck at $2.13 an hour — to 70% of the regular minimum wage and then link it to preserve this ratio.

In the late 1960s, Half in Ten says, the minimum wage was enough to lift a family of three out of poverty. A full-time, year round job at the federal minimum wage now pays less than the federal poverty line for a two-person family.

Expand Access to High-Quality Pre-K and Childcare. This, as you probably know, is a high priority for the President and a broad spectrum of advocacy organizations. They’re focused especially on children in low-income families, more than half of whom start school at a disadvantage — and never catch up.

A bill reflecting the Obama administration’s proposal — the Strong Start for America’s Children Act — would make pre-K available for more low-income four-year-olds and, at the same time, establish quality standards. It also seeks to raise quality in programs for younger kids.

The Half in Ten video, however, focuses on the immediate pocketbook issue. Low-income families, it says, spend, on average, 40% of their income on childcare. More money for publicly-funded programs and/or subsidies to help pay the rates other programs charge would obviously leave more leftover for other needs.

Make the Workplace Family Friendly. Three priorities here. One is mandatory paid sick leave for the more than 40% of private-sector workers whose employers don’t see fit to grant it voluntarily. The percent in roughly double for low-wage workers, who can least afford to take unpaid leave.

A second priority is paid family leave so that workers can take time off for a broader range of compelling reasons, e.g., childbirth, a sick family member in need of care. Only 212% of workers have this benefit now.

And of the 59% who have an unpaid family leave guarantee under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, about two million need, but can’t afford to take it, according to a recent survey.

A bill now pending in Congress would take care of both these issues — and without adding a penny to the federal debt, says one of the cosponsors.

The third priority is legislation to further strengthen the Equal Pay Act. Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Various reasons for this, but an estimated quarter to a third of the gap may reflect discrimination.

Don’t Make Poverty Worse. In other words, Congress is to refrain from further cuts to programs that provide cash or near-cash benefits to people in need.

Half in Ten flags SNAP (the food stamp program), which, as you know, was recently cut. It lifted nearly five million people above the poverty threshold in 2012, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure.

Also flagged are unemployment insurance benefits, which lifted more than 2.4 million above the poverty threshold.

So Congress will surely make poverty worse if it doesn’t renew the recently-expired Emergency Unemployment Compensation program — or does, but trims it back again. The former seems more likely than the latter, unless Republicans rethink their position.

This is, in a way, a sad agenda because it’s largely based on pending legislation, which is largely based on what stands at least a remove chance of passing in this highly-divided, deficit-obsessed Congress. Sad also because chances seem pretty remote for much of it.

But one never can tell. So the thing we can do right now is to weigh in with our elected representatives on these five things — unless, of course, we’re disenfranchised District of Columbia residents. Sigh.


More Than Half A Million Jobs Lost If Federal Unemployment Benefits Expire

December 1, 2011

I’m not acutely distressed by the fact that Super Committee members couldn’t cut a deal.

The Democrats had moved so far to the right that whatever deal got enough Republicans on board would probably have been worse than the automatic spending cuts the no-deal will trigger — assuming Congress lets them happen.

In one respect, however, the stalemate disappoints me.

I’d hoped that Democrats could wedge an extension of federally-funded unemployment benefits into a deal that could pass — just as President Obama got them extended as part of last December’s deal on the expiring Bush tax cuts.

Hope is the operative word here because the UI benefits extension had reportedly gotten tangled up in party-line differences based on a more fundamental consensus, i.e., the cost of the extension must be fully offset by savings elsewhere in the budget.

This incidentally marks a change from past precedent — and from the Democrats’ position as recently as last December.

In any event, we need a Plan B fast because the programs are due to expire at the end of the year.

So millions of jobless workers may soon find themselves with no cash income — 5,500 in the District of Columbia alone. And that’s only losses through early February.

Republicans balked at extending the programs last year. The situation is worse now because Congress as a whole is so riveted on the deficit. And extending the programs is, of course, not free.

But also not nearly as costly as what the federal government will spend to fund the programs. Nor nearly so costly as letting them die.

Costs in human terms should go without saying. We read story after story about the plight of jobless workers who’ve exhausted their UI benefits.

But the debate, of course, revolves around economic costs. So a bit of perspective on these.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of extending the UI programs for year at somewhat over $44 billion.

The Economic Policy Institute, however, argues that we need to factor in the jobs that will be created or saved because workers and their families spend most, if not all their benefits on basic needs — food, rent, gas for the car, clothes for the kids, etc.

Their spending supports jobs throughout the economy — in retail businesses, the companies that supply them, the companies that supply the suppliers and so forth.

So every$1 paid out in UI benefits delivers as much as $2.00 in economic boost.

Using a more conservative multiplier, EPI finds that the UI extensions will increase GDP, i.e., the total value of domestic economic activity, by $72 billion.*

This, it calculates, translates into 560,000 jobs created or saved.

The workers who hold those jobs pay federal taxes. They don’t depend — at least, not solely — on publicly-funded benefits.

EPI figures that the federal government would thus recoup $26.9 billion of what it would spend for the extra weeks of UI benefits — partly in tax revenues and partly in savings on safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

Bottom line then is that, in real terms, the extensions would cost only $18.1 billion — far less than what the price tag seems to be.

Turn the story around. If Congress doesn’t extend the federal UI benefits programs, the economy will shed well over half a million more jobs. Our already sluggish GDP would lose a half-percent boost.

Economist Mark Zandi — a guru on such matters — puts the negative GDP impact a tad lower. Even so, he estimates the loss at $58 billion.

Makes the UI benefits extensions look like a good dollars-and-cents choice as well as a simple act of compassion.

* EPI uses a somewhat higher cost estimate than CBO because it assumes that Congress would adopt a technical fix to the so-called “look-back” provision in the Emergency Benefits law. Without it, states couldn’t get EB funds unless their unemployment rates had risen in the last two or three years.


Bipartisan “Jobs” Bill Won’t Create Jobs

November 14, 2011

So a jobs bill of sorts actually managed to pass in the Senate — overwhelmingly, in fact. I’m referring here to the veterans hiring credits  — a small piece of the President’s American Jobs Act.

A fine patriotic gesture just in time for Veterans Day. And perhaps they’ll help some veterans get hired.

Those who’ve recently returned from fighting our wars have had a hard time. The unemployment rate for them is now 12.1% — higher than the overall rate. Also higher than a year ago, though the overall rate has fallen.

The credits, however, aren’t for new veterans only. And veterans as a whole have a lower unemployment rate than working-age people who were never in the military.

Still, it seems reasonable to help those who chose to put themselves in danger — even for our dubious ventures in the Gulf. They’ve come home to a very bad job market and face some unique re-entry challenges.

Certainly reasonable to offer a premium tax credit to employers who hire long-term unemployed veterans with a service-related disability.

But, as The Atlantic‘s Daniel Indiviglio says, the hiring credits will hardly boost hiring in general. At most, they “may create a few jobs on the margins.”

I rather doubt it so far as long-term jobs are concerned. The credits aren’t nearly large enough to induce any company to hire a worker it doesn’t need.

They may, however, get more veterans hired for jobs that would otherwise have gone to non-vets. How many is questionable.

We’ve had hiring credits for disadvantaged workers since 1996. A new paper by Elizabeth Lower-Basch at CLASP convincingly argues that they’ve mainly created “windfalls” for large companies in low-wage, high-turnover industries, e.g., fast food chains, temporary help agencies.

No evidence employers hired anyone they wouldn’t have hired anyway. Surely not many veterans covered by the new tax credit bill.

The program that Lower-Basch reviews — the Work Opportunity Tax Credit — already offers tax credits for hiring both those who have a service-related disability and those who’ve been unemployed for at least six months.

The Recovery Act temporarily expanded the WOTC to include those discharged within the last five years who’d been receiving unemployment benefits for at least a month.

Yet here we are with the unemployment rate the President and a bunch of Senators are deploring.

I don’t want to rain on the rally ’round the troops — or the unique display of bipartisanship. But the fact the credits are being billed as a jobs measure tees me off.

Not as much as the bill they’re attached to, however. It’s supposedly to help businesses create jobs too — remove uncertainties, burdens on small businesses, etc.

Will certainly remove some burdens, though not those publicly acknowledged. Because it repeals a law, not yet implemented, that Congress passed to keep many thousands of government contractors from continuing to evade their tax liabilities.

Cost of the repeal is estimated at $11 billion. You could make a down payment on some real job creation with that.


What’s In The President’s Jobs Plan For DC And Its Residents?

September 10, 2011

Even those of you who didn’t watch President Obama’s jobs speech to Congress probably know, in general terms, what’s in it.

Probably have also read and/or heard reactions from various quarters. A “strong blueprint.” Same old failed stimulus stuff. And everything in between.

I’ll spare you my own off-the-top-of-the-head assessment. Will instead give you, courtesy of the White House, some sense of what the American Jobs Act could mean for the District of Columbia and its residents.*

Payroll Tax Cuts

The President, as expected, wants to extend the employee payroll tax cut that Congress passed last December. But he wants to expand it so that workers would pay only half as much as they ordinarily would.

The White House says that a “typical” District household, i.e., one with an annual income of around $53,000, would have an additional $1,640 or so in take-home pay.

The President also wants to halve the employer payroll tax for the first $5 million of a firm’s wages. According to the White House, 20,000 firms in the District would see their payroll taxes cut to 3.1% next year.

There’d also be a full payroll tax holiday for firms that increase their payrolls by new hires, raises or both. No impact estimate for this.

Construction Projects

The President’s plan has five discrete types of investments in infrastructure upgrades and other modernization projects.

Highways and public transit systems, high-speed wireless services, public schools and community colleges would each get a pot of money. A separate pot would be available for projects to rehabilitate and refurbish vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses.

For highways and transit systems, the District could get at least $387.3 million, for public school modernization another $84.7 million, for community college facilities $2.5 million and for rehab/refurbishing about $20 million, plus whatever it might get through competitive grants.

Funding in the first two categories could support an estimated 6,100 jobs, the White House says. No jobs estimates for the other two.

Public Sector Jobs

The Presidents wants targeted funds to go to state and local governments. About 85% would have to be used to save teacher jobs and/or to reverse the results of layoffs. The remainder would be earmarked for hiring and retaining public safety officers and firefighters.

The District would get a total of $45.1 million. The White House says this would support as many as 500 jobs.

Other Help for the Unemployed

The President’s plan confirms his support for another extension of the federal programs that provide unemployment insurance benefits to jobless workers when their regular state benefits expire.

The White House says the extension would preserve benefits for 5,500 District residents during the first six weeks alone. The number could triple by the end of next year if the situation here proves typical of what it projects for the country as a whole.

The President is also proposing “reforms” in the UI system. These will require a closer look. Generally speaking, most of them would allow states more flexibility in how they use UI benefits.

States could, for example, continue paying UI benefits to long-term unemployed workers who take temporary jobs or pursue work-based training. This is the option the President highlighted in his speech, but the legislation will apparently provide for others.

The White House says the reforms “could help put the 16,000 long-term unemployed workers in the District of Columbia back to work.” Or not, since the impact would depend on many factors, e.g., what, if anything, the District decided to do differently, how employers responded, labor market demands.

The President also proposes a new fund to provide low-income youth and adults with job opportunities and on-the-job-training. He seems to envision something like the subsidized jobs programs that were supported by the now-expired TANF Emergency Contingency Fund.

The White House says the new program could place 400 adults and 1,400 youth in jobs in D.C. I assume the District would make sure they lived in D.C. too.

The Pay-For

The President has said he’ll produce a plan showing how the cost of the whole package could be fully offset so that the Super Committee could still meet its deficit reduction target.

His speech refers to eliminating tax breaks for “the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.” Also to unspecified “modest adjustments” in Medicare and Medicaid.

Judging from what the White House has floated before, these “adjustments” could be bad news for the District and its low-income residents. (See my post on what the White House previously proposed for Medicaid matching rates.)

But, of course, the President proposes. Congress disposes. And what, if anything, it passes is likely to look quite different.

Caveats notwithstanding, not too different I hope.

* What follows is based on a fact sheet in a state-by-state set the White House circulated via e-mail and has now posted here.

NOTE: This version of the post reflects a correction in one figure and the addition of a missing item in the construction section. I have also added a link to the state fact sheets, which were not online when I wrote this.


Employer Tax Holiday Won’t Jump Start Hiring

June 25, 2011

The White House seems well aware that the upcoming Presidential election will pivot on the economy — and more specifically, the unemployment rate. Prospects for a spontaneous burst of growth are too dim to see with the naked eye.

But the President and his people are understandably wary of proposing anything that could be labeled stimulus spending.

Facts notwithstanding, the Republicans seem to have convinced a majority of Americans that the economic recovery act failed. Also that Congress must cut federal spending now to begin dealing with the deficit.

But tax cuts are good, right? At least so long as they benefit us.

Republicans continue to insist that cutting businesses taxes will create jobs — though we need big cuts in spending and regulations too.

For his part, the President seems eager to prove that he’s listening to business leaders, who, of course, would like lower taxes.

Not so eager, however, as to support another “tax holiday” that would let multi-national corporations bring foreign earnings home at a drastically lower rate. Or at least, say Treasury officials, not unless the giveaway is part of a broader tax reform package. In short, not right now.

But what about giving businesses a temporary reprieve from payroll taxes? They’d like it. Congressional Republicans should like. They sure used to, though they’re reportedly iffy now.

Best of all, it can be cited to show that the President has done something about the jobs crisis.

I’m no economist. But when I read about the payroll tax holiday, I said to myself, it’s not going to get businesses hiring people they wouldn’t have hired anyway.

Businesses aren’t holding back on new hires because they feel they can’t afford the additional 7.65% they’d have to pay on top of the wages.

They’re not hiring because their current workforce is sufficient — if not more than sufficient — to meet the demand for their products and services.

Corporations are sitting on a pile of dough. If they wanted to hire here in the U.S., they would. Small businesses — those putative engines of job growth — are shrinking their payrolls. And a short-term nick in labor costs won’t stop them — let alone get them hiring again.

“I hire workers to do jobs,” says the president of a North Carolina graphics firm. “If we don’t have the work coming in, nothing will make me hire another worker.”

In any event, businesses are adding jobs, though at a pretty sluggish pace. The unemployment rate isn’t budging because state and local governments are still shedding jobs — another 30,000 in the month of May.

A payroll tax holiday won’t save one of them. Another round of fiscal aid to the states could. But a proposal for that would be DOA in Congress.

The Atlantic‘s Daniel Inviglio has some other ideas. Maybe a couple of these would fly. Maybe they’d step up hiring a bit.

But the Economic Policy Institute tells us that the economy would have to create 11 million jobs for the unemployment rate to settle back to its pre-recession rate.

This figure keeps growing as the labor market fails to make up for the many millions of jobs lost and add enough to keep up with the increasing number of youth who’ve become old enough for full-time work.

Those who don’t get jobs soon are likely to face years of lower earnings and future unemployment. And they generally don’t have much by way of safety net supports to tide them over while they’re looking.

People at the other end of the working-age range may be left on the sidelines, even if jobs proliferate faster than anyone expects.

So we’ve got a complex policy problem that I don’t think anyone in Washington wants to confront. It’s bigger than how to create a whole lot more jobs quickly. Bigger than how to rapidly retrofit workers whose jobs aren’t coming back.

I don’t have the glimmer of an answer. But I’m sure as can be that an employer payroll tax holiday isn’t it.

Also sure as can be that the President’s in trouble if he doesn’t come out with a plan that gives us some hope we can believe in.


President Opts for Business Tax Breaks Over Near-Term Job Creation

September 17, 2010

Far be it from me to say that the President shouldn’t do what he can to protect the endangered Democratic majorities in Congress. But the sop he’s offered to win support from the “business community” and its allies isn’t the sort of thing I’d hoped for from someone who only recently said that jobs aren’t “being created as fast as they need to be.”

I’m talking, of course, about the President’s new business tax cut proposals.

One of them would make the research and development tax credit permanent and the “simplified” option for claiming it more profitable. Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein reports that the latter change would increase the credit from 14% to 17%. Price tag about $100 billion over 10 years.

The other proposal would allow businesses to write off the entire costs of new equipment purchases through 2011. This would extend and expand a small business expensing provision that was originally part of the Bush administration’s Economic Stimulus Act. The write-off would be doubled and available to all businesses, including the largest corporations. Price tag about $30 billion over 10 years.

Now, it could make sense to put a permanent R&D credit in place. Congress has extended the “temporary” credit ever since it was enacted. No reason to believe it wouldn’t do so again. In the long run, the permanent extension would thus cost no more than a series of periodic extensions.

But it won’t do much for the vast majority of small businesses — those putative incubators of most new jobs. When the General Accountability Office last looked at the credit, it found that corporations with annual receipts over $1 billion claimed more than half of the total.

True, small start-up companies may also claim the credit, but only if they’re already turning a profit, paying taxes and able to afford the relatively high costs of documentation. Not the next Google being developed in someone’s garage. Not your typical mom and pop store either.

Nor, I think, will the R&D extension produce game-changing breakthroughs that wouldn’t have been developed any way. After all, companies invest in research and development because they think the results will ultimately generate significant products. They’re not going to give it up just because they can’t offset part of the costs with a credit — let alone because they’re not sure they’ll have the credit for years to come.

Let’s look at the credit from another angle. Perhaps the President’s proposal would bring some R&D jobs back home since only expenses for R&D conducted in the U.S. can be claimed.

Klein’s interviewee — the far-from-disinterested president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation — says that U.S. companies have expanded their R&D expenditures, but in other countries, e.g., China and Taiwan. No clear evidence that this choice was affected by any uncertainty about the credit or its limited value — quite the contrary.

So not many new jobs for Americans any time soon. And very few if any created will be opportunities for the workers hit hardest by the recession — those with no more than a high school diploma.

Maybe more jobs some day if some companies develop products that generate significant expansion and don’t outsource production, sales and other work. But that latter is a big if.

What about the equipment purchase write-off? We’re given to understand that corporations are sitting on a vast amount of cash. Will the opportunity to write off expenditures faster get them to spend it now?

As Howard Gleckman at the Tax Policy Center observes, “today’s economic malaise is caused largely by a lack of consumer demand.” Companies that foresee a near-term uptick they can’t manage with their existing equipment will buy more, with or without the extra incentive. Companies that don’t won’t.

But just say for the sake of argument that some companies decide to shift equipment purchases forward. Will that create jobs for American workers? Unless I’m missing something, the equipment doesn’t have to be manufactured in the U.S. Could this be a nice stimulus for, say, China or India?

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich looks at the longer-term impacts. Big corporations, he says, like the tax break for equipment purchases because they’re investing in automation to permanently reduce the need for workers. Insofar as the more generous provision worked, it would be subsidizing more job cuts — and not, I suspect, in big companies only.

Granted, the business tax breaks are a political strategy aimed at boxing Republicans into a corner and/or co-opting the small business argument against letting the top income tax brackets revert to their pre-Bush levels.

But they’re part of a larger picture. According to the White House blog, the President’s vision for America is “a place where we don’t just think about today; we think about tomorrow…. Where we lead the world in the things we make and sell, not just in the things we consume.”

Seems to me he’s not thinking enough about today — that he’s fixed his eyes on the future because he doesn’t have the gumption to do battle for measures that would tackle the jobs crisis we face right now.

He’d probably lose, but not in the minds and hearts of jobless and other anxious voters. And the odds aren’t much better for his latest “stimulus” initiatives any way.