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Amy Traub

Not Stimulating Enough

The nation isn’t losing jobs quite as quickly as it has been. If you’re looking for good news from Friday’s employment numbers, that’s about the extent of it. The bad news is just about everything else: we’ve got 13.7 million Americans out of a job, and despite the slowing pace of losses, the reality is that many more people are likely to be thrown out of work before the unemployment rate begins to creep back down.

The Administration’s critics carp that the stimulus will not create as many jobs a promised, but they’ve missed the point. The estimate of roughly 3.5 million jobs created or preserved is as sound as any economic model, yet it still doesn’t come close to meeting the economic need. In an economy that’s lost 5.7 million jobs, regaining 3.5 million by the end of next year isn’t going to feel like a recovery to most of us – least of all those still looking for work.

In the past few weeks, I’ve highlighted several suggestions for giving the economy the additional boost it needs. Here’s another: just as the nation has made some progress harmonizing the patchwork of state unemployment benefits, the federal government could provide further incentives to knit together other aspects of the social safety net, aptly described by the New York Times as “a jumble of disconnected programs that reach some and reject others, often for reasons of geography or chance rather than differences in need.”

Would it be controversial to call on states to cut the red tape and expand access to food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid? Certainly. Budget hawks will continue to complain about spending. The same crop of rebellious governors may refuse to accept the funds. In other words, we’ll hear more angry words from a stew of politicians and commentators who are already making angry their full-time job. But odds are, we’d also help more of the Americans hit hardest by the economic downturn. And by getting money into the hands of people bound to spend it quickly, we’ll also lift the economy and put people back to work.

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Posted at 8:08 AM, May 12, 2009 in Politics | Stimulus | Welfare
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