Focus on getting Americans working

A jobless recovery is no recovery for the jobless, which is why President Obama, members of Congress and other leaders at all levels still need to focus on getting Americans working again. Like the layoffs, the problem solving should cut across party lines.

Elected officials would say they’ve done plenty already related to employment, and they wouldn’t be lying. If not for the much-loathed $787æbillion stimulus package, for example, the state and local governments and school districts would be shedding jobs and slashing services even more than they are. Congress’ recent extension of unemployment benefits and expansion of the homebuyers’ tax credit also help.

And when Kansas legislators voted last spring to tap $70æmillion in unemployment money from the federal stimulus package, they also helped employers with work-sharing programs such as Spirit AeroSystems avoid mass layoffs and keep some employees working part time as they collect unemployment benefits and get training.

But particularly Obama and the Democrats who control Congress have seemed more focused on health care, energy, foreign policy and other matters, treating the jobs crisis as a side issue. It’s time to get serious.

Democrats in Congress already are considering options for job creation such as authorizing more highway construction and giving small businesses incentives to hire, perhaps through a temporary tax credit. Others are urging Congress to do more to free up credit to small businesses and expand work-sharing programs.

Republicans, who usually doubt the ability of government to stimulate job growth, also have a role to play. “We need to fight for true economic stimulus that will remove barriers to private-sector job creation, put spending decisions back into the hands of families and business owners, and lead us toward energy independence,” Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, said this month as he introduced two bills aimed at helping businesses create and keep jobs.

For his part, Obama is holding a White House “jobs summit” on Dec. 3 and planning to visit some parts of the country that have been deeply affected by unemployment.

Which ought to bring him to Wichita. The metropolitan area’s 7.9æpercent unemployment rate in October was a significant improvement over July’s 10æpercent and better than October’s 10.2æpercent nationally. But a trip to Wichita by Obama, who disparaged jet ownership in a February speech to Congress, would let the president see for himself how the loss of more than 13,000 aircraft-manufacturing jobs in a year affects a community of 350,000. As Machinists international president Tom Buffenbarger told a crowd last month at the National Business Aviation Association in Orlando, “We watched as the president took his shots. Let’s just say he owes us a visit.”

Of course, one sure way the Obama administration and Congress can stimulate the nation’s employment is to expedite the process to get an Air Force contract for air-refueling tankers. If it favored the bidder with the most U.S. jobs to offer — and in this economy, how could it do otherwise? — the victor surely would be Boeing. And as we learned with new certainty last week, that would mean jobs for Wichita. “The finishing work will be there,” said Boeing spokesman William Barksdale. “Absolutely.”

Wichita needs those jobs — and all others. And until the recession is over in average Americans’ homes as well as CEOs’ suites, creating jobs needs to be Job One in Washington.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman