Bringing people together to solve the unemployment crisis

Bringing people together to solve the unemployment crisis

While working in government for about 10 years before joining Hope Street Group, I saw examples of great policy ideas that could’ve been helpful in solving some of the big problems facing the country.  Often, however, the good idea or proposal would lack a key element – incentives to compel the desired changes to the existing system. The reality is people often need a “what’s in it for me” enticement to be motivated to change the status-quo.

Hope Street Group has focused on the idea that the best way to bring about positive change is through incentives.  An example of this approach has worked in the past when Hope Street convened a bipartisan group to identify ways to incentivize education reforms. The results were the policy recommendations that eventually became the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program, which has dramatically changed the landscape of public education. Reforms nobody before thought possible are commonplace today throughout school districts in many states.

Taking a similar approach, Hope Street Group is seeking to address another serious issue integral to its mission of creating economic opportunity – finding solutions to the unemployment crisis.  While the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers have improved since the economic downturn began in 2007, far too many Americans have yet to return to the workforce.

Nobody understands the difficult environment of today’s job market more than the millions of Americans who have looked unsuccessfully for work over months if not years since the sharp economic downturn began around 2007.  Imagine sending out dozens of resumes each week, networking, applying for positions only to never hear anything back.

It’s the reality for many Americans all across the economic spectrum, such as the University of Pittsburgh graduate featured in the New York Times who’s been waiting tables and delivering beer since 2009. There is even an effort underway to provide temporary internships to unemployed workers in their 50s in hopes it will lead to a permanent position in this CNN story.

The sharp downturn has brought about one of the worst periods of unemployment in the last 70 years – setting new records since the Department of Labor began tracking statistics in 1948. Just over 5 million Americans fall into the category of the “long-term unemployed” (27 weeks or longer) as of the end of April.

Now with the 2012 General Election just getting underway, jobs and the economy are likely to dominate the news and discussions throughout the rest of the year and with good reason.  But with all the partisan back and forth and various perspectives in the media, it can be tough to get good solid information.

Perhaps a place to start would be to take a good look at the facts to know exactly where the nation stands.

  • Unemployment rates peaked at about 10 percent in 2009 and have dropped to 8.1 percent as of April, 2012.
  • The 8.1 unemployment rate could be higher but it doesn’t count the 968,000 “discouraged workers” — those who have given up or quit looking for work out of frustration.
  • The long-term unemployed (27 weeks or longer) make up 41 percentof the total unemployed population as of April.
  • The average duration without employment for the jobless reached record highs in 2011 at about 40 weeks but has been declining since.  Previously, the highest this figure had reached was just about 20 weeks during past recessions.
  • The economy has added jobs consecutively for 19 months and has added over 4 million private-sector jobs over the last two years.

Another aspect that makes the recent downturn different from others, 586,000 government jobs have been lost since 2008. That is, private-sector employment has been growing while public-sector employment throughout the nation has been shrinking. Today’s unemployment rate would be closer to 7 percent without public-sector job losses, according to the Wall Street Journal. This number represents another record – the most government jobs lost in a single period.

The bottom line, now that GDP growth has returned to pre-recession levels we need to find a way to regain the six million jobs that employers haven’t added back to the marketplace and find a way to avoid the type of harsh long-term unemployment we’ve seen since 2007.

But when it comes to job creation and tackling our deep economic issues, of course no easy or simple answers exist. It will take vision, planning, and follow through to create the right economic conditions for job growth. We will need experts from the public and private sectors working together to create this vision and to plot a course forward.  Assembling such a group to work together is where the Hope Street Group can be helpful.

In fact, a group of experts from vastly different fields and sectors will take a crack at finding solutions for unemployment rates and ways to incentivize job creation this week at Hope Street Group’s 2012 Colloquium.

Thomas Friedman, NY Times Columnist

Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission

The Honorable John Engler, President, Business Roundtable; former Governor of Michigan

Sterling Speirn, CEO and President, Kellogg Foundation

Diana Aviv, President and CEO, Independent Sector

Van Ton Quinlivan, Vice Chancellor, Economic & Workforce Development, California Community

Barbara Schaeffer, SVP, Human Resources, Union Pacific

Carl Camden, President and CEO, Kelly Services

Sylvia Burwell, President, The Walmart Foundation

John Podesta, Chair and Counselor, Center for American Progress

Andy Stern, Former President, SEIU

George McCarthy, Director, Metropolitan Opportunity Unit, Ford Foundation

Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, City Colleges of Chicago

Roberta Gassman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration, US Dept. of Labor

Sean Greene, Associate Administrator, Investment and Innovation, US Small Business Administration

Slava Rubin, CEO and Founder, Indiegogo

Allen Blue, VP Product Management and Co-Founder, LinkedIn

Kristin Oliver, Senior Vice President, People, Walmart U.S.

The group will meet in break-out sessions and work to find solutions to deal with the employment crisis.  Possible topics and approaches include:

  • Why we’re not seeing commensurate levels of job creation with GDP growth.
  • Solutions for the “skills gap” causing college graduates to enter the workforce without the skills employers are seeking.
  • Possibilities for addressing the disproportionably high levels of youth unemployment.

o   Young people ages 16-24 with no high school diploma face a 36 percent unemployment rate and those with a 4-year college degree a 15 percent rate.

  • Trends in the nature of work brought about by the downturn, such as increases in temporary or part-time positions and reductions in health care and retirement benefits.

Again, Hope Street Group believes the best way to bring about positive change is to bring the best minds together to form a diverse and bipartisan group to tackle tough issues.  After identifying the problems and ways to address them, the team will establish a policy vision complete with incentives to motivate change.

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