It's odd, but I hear these questions from many people. They ask me, "Where can I find a job? Why aren't companies hiring?" Maybe it's because I've been unemployed for over two years and comment occasionally about such things, but some are inclined to feel I have answers to their unemployment predicaments. I only know what everyone else knows. That is, companies are sitting on huge nests of cash and are not hiring people or are delaying projects while they wait for the other economic shoe to drop. I'm not an economist nor policymaker by any means (I became an artist because I was bad at math) and I don't have the answers for myself or my colleagues, but I have ideas and ideas are free. So here goes.
An idea that I'm convinced needs to be revisited is a Work Projects Administration (WPA) type of program similar to the one from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal era. From 1935 until 1943 the WPA provided almost eight million jobs for workers, including public works projects like building roads, bridges, and public buildings. In my hometown of Buffalo alone, a stadium and auditorium were built, among other projects. With the crumbling infrastructure the country is facing, this seems like the perfect time for another WPA. The WPA also operated large arts, media, and literacy projects. Writers were put to work composing regional and municipal histories, artists painted public murals and designed advertising and collateral for government agencies, and photographers were sent all around the country to document American life. Hey, give me a decent salary and I'll hit the road with my Nikon!
I like this idea. It's been floating around for years, but I was reminded of it by Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, via a television interview. What if everyone currently working were to take a reduced hourly work-week to 35 or even 30 hours? In a small business comprised of eight employees, this could create one additional job at 35 hours and two at 30 hours. According to the most current (2008) U.S. Census business data, there were almost 4.9 million employers in the U.S. with 10 to 10,000 workers. For the sake of this discussion, let's say that there are closer to 4.5 million now due to the country's economic problems since 2008. With each of those companies producing one job, that's 4.5 million people back to work and two jobs is 9 million. Simple! If just one of those 10,000 worker firms reduced hours to 35 per week, that opens up 50,000 hours a year for 1,428 new jobs. Imagine if they all did that. Way more than 9 million jobs would be created and probably avert layoffs, too.
An idea in the Ross Perot vein is that manufacturers need to figure out how to start making some, if not all, of their products in this country again. The U.S. used to be the largest producer of electronics products in the world and we had the educated engineers and workers to design and build them. Now the typical American most likely doesn't have a single small appliance or electronic component in their household that isn't made overseas. From toasters to irons, flat-screen TVs to computers, they're all imported. Yes, it's cheaper to make these things in countries where the labor is underpaid and moving production to the U.S. would be difficult because we expect to pay $10 for a coffee maker at Walmart, but I for one would prefer to pay more for a product that's built here by American workers who get a decent salary. I'd have fewer gadgets, which would be a good thing. If Steve Jobs, for all his much-admired product vision and marketing savvy, could have applied some of that genius to devise a way to build Apple products in the U.S., think of the jobs he would have created. The iPhones and iPads would cost more, but all that money would stay in the country and it would be better to see "Made in U.S.A" stamped on them instead of merely "Designed by Apple in California."
I'll tell you what won't work. Business tax credits. As a former small business owner, I know that any government tax credits handed to me would not have caused me to hire anyone because the credits don't amount to much. If I couldn't afford to pay someone 40k and received 10k in credits, I still couldn't make up the difference and hire someone. The money just isn't there. What allowed me to employ more people was my firm getting more work…much of which of now goes overseas and is done by people willing to do it for $5 per hour or less. When I had a staff, they paid taxes and bought the goods we produced for my clients. It's the American business cycle Henry Ford championed and that the country has let fall by the wayside in the current global economy. Perhaps enforcing trade laws would help, but that's tough when the biggest practitioner of unfair trade practices is also our banker — China.
There are a lot of other ideas for job creation all over the Internet and Bill Clinton even had a dozen good ideas that were outlined in a past Newsweek article. As always, the ideas are free, but none are any good if they're not put into action. What are we afraid of? Failure? We only fail if we don't try.
Steve James owned and creative directed an advertising and design studio in Buffalo, NY with the un-snappy name of SteveJamesDesign, Inc. Steve and his family now live in Indianapolis where he worked as a Creative Director and he is currently in transition, flux, metamorphosis, segue, or whatever looking for work is now called.
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