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New Solutions to Real Unemployment - A New Sense of Commerce and Government

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Authored by: Leo Hindery, Jr.

Americans are relentlessly optimistic. We all want to believe that our country is, in the words of our Founders, a "city upon the hill", a place where all of us have a fair chance to make a good life and leave our children and grandchildren a better world.

For most of our history, this American Dream united us as a nation. Sure, it was hard - you have to work hard for most things worth having. But for the vast majority of Americans, it wasn't harder than it needed to be.

Even for those who often found obstacles placed in their paths - women, minorities, the very poor and recent immigrants - their desire to share fully in the American Dream was one we all embraced.

Yet with almost half of the economic growth over the last 30 years having gone to the top one percent of American families, pollsters are telling us that only one-third of adult Americans believe that their children will have a better life than they've had - this despite the unwavering commitment of the Obama administration over the last eight years to turn around the lot of Main Street as well.

Underpinning all of this is the sad reality that we have a seemingly persistent real unemployment rate that is more than twice the official BLS employment rate, with millions of unemployed and underemployed workers and with a staggering 5.9 million American workers now working part-time only because they can't find full-time employment.

Yet America's unemployment rate - whether the official rate or the much more accurate real rate - is not itself the problem, rather it's the symptom. The problem is the country's profoundly unbalanced economy and workforce.

Seeing these figures in black and white reminds me every day why the election of Secretary Hillary Clinton as our next President is so important.

Many of the failures in our economy are the result of two things. First is the gutting since the 1980s of many of the worker and consumer protections that for decades kept corporate insiders from ruining the American Dream for the rest of us. Second is the undercutting of our manufacturing sector with the resulting unbalancing of our employment base, with now only eight percent or so of workers in manufacturing.

This neutering of the nation's manufacturing sector has left the U.S. economy dramatically overweighted in favor of relatively lower-paying service jobs, which has forced too many people to become overly dependent on consumer credit - and thus not spending and not investing - in order to sustain their lives and families.

In order to make, as Secretary Clinton is demanding in response, "the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II", we must invest in a forward-leaning manufacturing sector which employs at least twenty percent of America's workers. We must adopt a fair, yet fairly-aggressive, approach to expanding trade opportunities. And as a nation we must invest over the next decade the more than $3 trillion dollars required to connect and properly educate Americans and to speed them to work and their products to market.

Regarding the latter, of all of the available macro policy tools, only this multi-trillion-dollar, multi-year program of infrastructure investment - with its massive multiplier effects throughout the whole of the economy - is able to create the new jobs, especially in manufacturing, needed to close America's persistent real unemployment gap.

Fundamentally, we need to adopt for these times the principles advocated by President Franklin Roosevelt in his Second Bill of Rights, especially "the right to a useful and remunerative job ... the right to earn enough [to assure a] decent living ... [and] the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment."

In order to put the American Dream solidly back on track for all American workers we need a commitment, mirroring FDR's, which bridges American 'commerce' and business with a more supportive role of government, which is another thing that Mrs. Clinton has the proper and proven sense of and Mr. Trump absolutely does not.

Very important, only Secretary Clinton understands and appreciates the reality that all that matters in an economy as large, diverse and far-flung as America's is a vibrant middle class growing now and for future generations - a middle class which is fully-employed in real terms and which spends and invests responsibly from a nation-wide foundation of fair wages.

America needs a top-to-bottom "growth agenda" which is the product of a bridge between enlightened business leaders, who have this same sense of responsibility to the middle class, and the next administration, including all of the government's departments and agencies, especially those of and at Commerce, Transportation, USTR and Treasury.

While we've always been wary of giving government too big a role in our lives, we've always insisted that the role it does play must be on the side of ordinary people. But today our government is too often disjointed in its agencies, and too often its law-making is the tool of those in business who've already climbed the ladder of success and now want to pull that ladder up behind them.

While Secretary Hillary Clinton's bold jobs initiative will take authorizing legislation and appropriations, some of the preparatory work could be done now by departments and agencies.

The important Commerce Department, for example, could begin to use its existing expertise to better revitalize manufacturing, strengthen the digital economy, and accelerate the transfer of technology from our labs to the marketplace. While protecting the nation's intellectual property and speeding up patent processes, it could further encourage in-bound investment while further encouraging SME manufacturers to expand their global marketing efforts. And by enhancing its data-driven mapping of our changing climate and economic environments, the Department could enable policy makers to start prioritizing those infrastructure investments needed to make our communities more resilient and more globally competitive.

All of the government's departments and agencies must be ready to enter into this new spirit of dynamism, and they need to commit to breaking down the parochialism and turf building which have too often led to inertia. Secretary Clinton's commitment to there being millions more quality American jobs demands, very simply, more cooperative, more cohesive, and more 'all-of-government' relationships between and among them.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Co-chair of the Task Force on Jobs Creation, founder of Jobs First 2012, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media.