Hey Obama, We Need a Job Stimulus, Now!

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I think Megan's absolutely right about this. In November 2010, the weight on voters' minds will be one part health care reform, one part climate change reform, and one hundred parts the state of the economy. It's the jobs, stupid, and if 10 percent of the workforce doesn't have one, the Democrats are in a lot of trouble. That's why this bit of unwisdom from Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (via Matt Yglesias) makes no sense:

"When the economy's not strong there's a lot of interest in controlling spending," Nelson said.

Oh hi, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan. What's it like inhabiting the body of Sen. Nelson?


I think Yglesias strikes exactly the right tone:

This is nuts. With the economy weak Nelson wants to do . . . what? Lay off teachers? Halt infrastructure projects? Make sure that kids whose parents are unemployed end up malnourished? The economy is suffering from a catastrophic collapse in overall spending with households, businesses, states, and municipalities all pulling back. If the federal government pulls back too we're going to go down the drain.

Exactly, but it's not just nuts from a policy perspective. It's political suicide. Even President Bush was signing fiscal stimulus plans in 2008 when the downturn looked more like a windy ripple than a tsunami.

And look at this tsunami! Today almost 20 percent of the workforce is considered unemployed or marginally attached. The White House expects unemployment to stay above 9.5 percent until the midterms, and there's little indication we'll be under 10 percent by the end of next summer. Our long-term deficit is serious, but our short-term unemployment is an anchor tied to both the consumer economy and the Democrats' electoral advantage in both houses of Congress. Short-term employment stimulus -- in the form of payroll tax reductions, state aid or hiring tax credits for companies -- is an absolute must, and Ben Nelson is either masochistic or oblivious to think otherwise.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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