Obama On Job Numbers: A Hand Up, Not A Hand Out

It strikes me that President Obama's response to today's rise in national unemployment (from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent), in which he proposed to allow recipients of unemployment benefits to enter college, community college, and job-training, is a left-of-center version of the conservative/centrist line, "a hand up, not a hand out."

Here's Obama talking about the proposal today at the Eisenhower Executive Office building, next to the White House (prepared remarks):

The idea here is to fundamentally change our approach to unemployment in this country, so that it's no longer just a time to look for a new job, but to prepare yourself for a better job.  That's what our unemployment system should be - not a safety net, but a stepping stone to a new future.  It should offer folks educational opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have, giving them the measurable and differentiated skills they need to not just get through these hard times - but to get ahead when the economy comes back.

That line: "not a safety net, but a stepping stone to a new future," is what does it for me. Obama has actually taken a centrist/conservative Democratic ideal, advocated by the Democratic Leadership Council, of work-based welfare reform, and translated it into an education-based initiative--his reasoning being that the 21st century economy is something new, and knowledge-based jobs are at a premium in the U.S. (as he puts it, "In a twenty-first century economy...the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge).

At some point, people will want to see unemployment go down. For now, they're not blaming Obama for the continuing loss of jobs, and they know that it's symptomatic of an economic crisis he inherited.

Obama and the White House have to make sure that he avoids accruing that blame, and it's up to them to have an appealing response to the numbers every month--even if it's somethign cosmetic--because the GOP is going to try to pin this on him. In fact, they already are, as they take aim at his economic agenda and co-opt the conservative economic outrage that we saw in the tea parties.

Today's proposal is a creative maneuver that may help people and benefit the economy, but also rebuffs the criticism that Obama is throwing money at the problem, and just giving hand outs. It's not a hand out, Obama said today, it's an innovative hand up, one that meshes with his goal of promoting and maybe even reinventing education.