It’s a testament to how bad the American employment market has gotten that the most recent jobs report was met with applause.
The Labor Department’s July jobs figures showed that employers added 163,000 new workers last month. That exceeds what most forecasters were predicting. But it’s only barely enough to keep up with population growth. And the overall unemployment rate actually increased slightly, to about 8.3 percent.
Jobs have been and will continue to be the most important issue to voters come November. A new Gallup/USA TODAY poll finds that 92 percent of likely voters rate “creating good jobs” as either a “very important” or “extremely important” priority for the next president. That was a full five points ahead of the second most popular issue (reducing corruption in government).
The issue has bipartisan salience. Unlike healthcare reform or tax cuts, creating good jobs is a high priority for Democrats and Republicans alike, with 48 percent of each ranking it as extremely important.
And yet neither Obama nor Romney has provided anything remotely resembling a robust, detailed policy package for spurring job grow and getting the employment market back on track.
Sure, Romney has his “59-Point” economic plan. But he hasn’t done much to market it. No one has read it. And while the plan itself does contain some sensible policy reforms – cutting corporate tax rates and expanding domestic energy production, for example – it mostly just nibbles around the edges.
The President did actually present jobs legislation to Congress. But while it included some smart reforms, it was too limited. And it went nowhere.
A smart, specific set of pro-jobs policies now could win the presidency. Here are the two I’d start with. They’re palatable to the base of both parties and would generate widespread public support.
First, prioritize and pass pending trade deals. Scaling back trade barriers makes it easier for foreign countries to buy American-made products, boosting domestic businesses and stirring job growth. US firms get access to cheaper foreign goods, leaving more money to invest in their domestic operations and grow their workforces.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) between the US and key Asia-Pacific economies is undergoing its next round of negotiations in a few weeks in Leesburg, Virginia. This is the kind of agreement the candidates should be promoting.
Among other things, the TPP establishes strong, universal patent protections for innovative industries like technology and pharmaceuticals. Reaching agreement on TPP would incentivize the next generation of breakthrough ideas – and all the new jobs that come with them.
Same goes for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a free trade bill between our two continents that just passed the Senate and House.
Second, a pro-jobs move for Romney or Obama would be to stand firmly against blind, across-the-board cuts in Medicare and other public insurance programs.
Lately, this kind of “reform” has become distressingly popular. Instead of doing the hard work of identifying and eliminating the parts of these programs that are genuinely wasteful, policymakers are just pushing for huge, brainless cuts.
Obama’s health bill creates a new Medicare “advisory board” that will soon start bringing down program expenses with massive cuts in physician reimbursements completely insensitive to the quality of care provided. Similarly, Congress is considering brute-force cuts in Part B and Part D.
These plans aren’t just dangerous to patient health – they’re dangerous to job growth. For many hospitals and doctor’s offices, public insurance is an important source of revenue. If payments from these programs dry up, providers could be forced to scale back or even close operations, laying off nurses, physician assistants, technicians, and others in the process. There’s a lot of work to be done in Washington to make American workers whole after years of job stagnation. No more sloganeering and vague promises. Obama and Romney need to start getting specific.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist, Fox News contributor.