Time magazine's cover story this week is on the biggest crisis that America now faces. And it's not healthcare -- badly screwed up though our healthcare system may be. The article makes a bit of a strained analogy to 9/11 (suggesting that U.S. unemployment should hover in the 9% to 11% range for some time, hence it's Obama's (9%/11%, get it?) but it's mainly a plea for a common sense approach to attacking a new kind of jobs crisis in America.
Such a plan would start by changing what it means to be jobless. To begin with, this would require a massive increase in job retraining, one that assured that every laid-off worker had a chance to learn a new skill and years of funding to master it — instead of the six-month shots now generally offered. The Administration's proposal to increase funding to community colleges is a start. But it's only a start. Ideally, the White House needs to propose an omnibus employment-emergency bill that guarantees jobless workers a basic set of rights for two to three years: health care, access to retraining, subsidized mentoring for careers in high-end manufacturing or health services. Handled well, such a program could be a "cash for clunker careers." Obama should also bring together innovative minds in technology and service — the people who run consumer-driven businesses like Disney and Google — to find ways to make the process of being unemployed less of a bureaucratic and emotional mess.