Can Obama's Jobs Bill Help The Long-term Unemployed?

By Toni Waterman

Oct. 6, 2011

Watch the segment that aired on Oct. 4 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — Starting every morning at 5:30am, Regina Logan can be found at her small dinning room table, hunched over the newspaper looking for a job.

Logan is desperate. After leaving a cushy job in Maryland a few years ago to help one of her daughters, she's bounced around from temp job to temp job. But she's been out of work since January — and it hasn't been from a lack of trying.

"Like my license, I don't leave home without my resumes. I'm distributing them everywhere I go: To bus drivers, T-personnel, people that I see in Dunkin' Donuts, people that I see on the train going downtown, my elected officials. All of these people have it," she said.

Logan says it's a darn good resume too, loaded with years of experience as an executive secretary, plus, a recent addition: a Bachelor of Science degree from Springfield College.

"I've done all the right things up until this point, and where has it gotten me?"

It's gotten her in the same boat as millions of other Americans; educated, but long-term unemployed. It's the exact group President Obama is targeting in his $447-billion Jobs Bill, which he laid out to the joint Congress on September 8, 2011.

"Pass this jobs bill and companies will get a $4,000 tax credit if they hire anyone who has spent more than 6-months looking for a job," Obama said.

It sounds like a good deal, but Medfield, Mass. business owner Thomas Erb says it just won't work. He's been in the clock-making business for 30 years, and many Electric Time clocks grace town squares across the globe.

Erb said he'd love to hire more workers, but it wouldn't be for a tax credit. It would be because he needs them.

"We look at our staffing requirements based on our sales. If you're a manufacturing organization, you know what you need for staff," said Erb. "And throwing a little money at it won't make a difference as far as hiring someone."

In fact, Erb said he's been doing the exact opposite, slashing employee overtime and cutting back on outside costs.

"We clean our own offices. We cut our own lawn. We go outside and fix the roof ourselves. We really brought a lot of these things that used to be done outside, inside, and have been able to save a fair amount of money that way."

Besides, Erb said, the one-time $4,000 tax credit offered in Obama's jobs bill is just a drop in the bucket compared to how much it costs to hire and keep an employee on the job.

"For the health insurance, it amounts to about $5 per hour per employee, which is a lot of money. It can cost up to $10,000 an employee per year," said Erb.

Robert Baker is the President of the Small Business Association of New England. He says one big thing the President's Jobs Bill doesn't address is job training.

"It takes a while to get someone skilled if you're doing fabrication or metal bending or braising. It takes training and training takes money," said Baker. "Believe it or not, employers in Massachusetts are having trouble finding skilled labor and I think training money helps them bridge that gap."

The bigger problem with the President's bill, says UMass Dartmouth Professor of Public Policy Michael Goodman, is that it doesn't address the country's and individual's overhanging debt.

"Doing something to resolve a lot of this debt that we're dealing with, not just in the public sector, but in the private sector and our households, will be necessary if we're going to return to something approximating normal," said Goodman.

Goodman said it's going to take bringing creditors and debtors together and recognizing that both parties are going to have to take some loss at some point.

"The inability to do that here in the U.S. and certainly in Europe has been prolonging this crisis," said Goodman. "And I think while a short-term stimulus is welcome and necessary, we're going to find ourselves in a similar situation a few years down the road if we don't take real action."

Not good news for Regina Logan. She said she's hoping the President's bill passes soon. In the meantime, she's going to keep on looking for a job.

"Versus nothing that's out there already, this is another opportunity. I have to stay hopeful."

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