NELP Statement on Obama Jobs Speech

Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, issued this statement following President Obama's jobs speech to Congress:

The President made a strong case tonight for the urgent need to put America back to work.  He laid out a plan that could jump start job growth and return millions to paid employment.  After months focused on the wrong priorities, it is past time for our leaders to shift their attention to job creation, front and center.  We are glad the President has tackled this crisis head-on, and we urge Congress to take him up on the call to act immediately. 

The President is right:  We can put millions of Americans back to work quickly and save jobs by fixing schools and other infrastructure, providing aid to the states, and reauthorizing through 2012 the federal unemployment insurance programs that keep families afloat and keep local economies stable.  Rebuilding infrastructure and fixing our school are smart investments that put people to work in the short term and improve quality of life and economic competitiveness in the long term.  We applaud these and other elements of the President’s plan, and hope that members of Congress will embrace them and move quickly to enact them.

We agree with the President that the long-term unemployed need additional assistance in returning to work.  Although the President did not highlight it in his speech, we are pleased to note that the American Jobs Act includes a provision to ban discrimination against the unemployed in hiring policies.  The President is also right to embrace work-sharing to avert layoffs and preserve jobs.  However, while we support increased efforts for the long-term unemployed, we are concerned – and will work to ensure – that the unemployment insurance reforms the President is considering that combine “voluntary” work with unemployment insurance do not undermine the program’s fundamental principles.  The Georgia program the President referred to is unproven and just today, the state’s labor commissioner acknowledged it lacks oversight and has yielded uncertain results.  

Finally, the President’s strong defense of the role of government in the lives of all Americans, his support of regulations that protect the workplace and the environment, and his call for big corporations and the richest among us to pay their fair share in order to rebuild the economy were heartening.   The “jobs” program outlined earlier by Representative Cantor, which focused exclusively on eliminating regulations and cutting corporate taxes, may send more money to corporate coffers, but it will not put Americans back to work.

Let’s just hope that anyone saying “let the games begin” after the President’s speech tonight was referring only to the football season kick-off, and not to the gamesmanship and bickering that has dominated Congress this year.   Putting America back to work is not a game—it’s hard work, and it’s time our leaders made it their number one priority.  President Obama’s blueprint is a good place to start.  Now it’s time for Congress to act.


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