Frustrated by government gridlock

Read this, and you can almost hear the frustration: "IF the government went unemployed for a period of time. Had bills mounting up on them. Looked for work and only could get something way, way, WAY below the payscale they are used to. IF ONLY, they would take that job and have to scrape on the bottom of the food chain for awhile to see what it's like to have employers walk all over you because they know you are "desperate" for employment. Then and ONLY THEN -- will the government come up with a REAL solution to the unemployment situation and realize how URGENTLY it needs to be addressed!!!!

Frustrated by government gridlock? Oh definitely, and it's a scenario that Carl Van Horn, a Rutgers University professor and the author of "Working Scared (Or Not At All)" lays out in his book subtitled "The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream."

Carl Van Horn

Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers in New Brunswick, bases his book on research the center has conducted over the last 15 years, including interviews with 25,000 workers. The quote that opens this post is from one of those interviews.

What Van Horn found was that, despite the contention in Washington, there is consensus among workers about what the government should do:

Eight in ten, he wrote, support long-term education and training to help people change careers. Seven in  ten support tax credits for businesses that hire, and also having the government create jobs for the unemployed. Six in ten support typing receiving benefits to enrolling in training and six in ten also support longer and higher unemployment benefits.

"Right now, it looks especially bleak because of the partisan gridlock and stalemate we have going on," Van Horn said in an interview last week. (You can read more in my Inquirer story and in yesterday's blog post). But, he said, "it wasn’t that long ago, there was a building bipartisan consensus on a lot of things that we talk about." Much of it, he said, was included in the "competitiveness agenda" that was a buzzword in the mid-1980s and early 1990s -- the goal being to develop policies that would keep the U.S. workforce competitive.

Or at least employed.

In the book, Van Horn relates an exchange between China's Commerce Minister, Chen Deming, and top U.S. commerce officials and business leaders. Chen told the officials that when he visited the U.S. 20 years ago, he was impressed by the quality of the highways, subways, railways and ports. But now, he said, much of that infrastructure has deteriorated. "U.S. infrastructure in some areas needs rebuilding, for example its electricity grid, railways and transportation networks.... This type of investment, even more, can help resolve the unemployment issue in the United States." 

More than half of unemployed workers (55 percent) surveyed by the Heldrich Center in August 2011 endorsed more direct federal spending to create jobs and 49 percent suggested investing in construction and infrastructure projects. At the same time, two out of three say that Congress needs to cut government spending.

Van Horn acknowledges that some of this is contradictory, but what isn't contradictory, he said, is that people want the government to act quickly to improve the economy and reduce joblessness.