deal with housing and the foreclosure issue. We’ve got to lay the groundwork for some long-term investment in energy, healthcare and education that can ensure long-term economic growth. So, we’ve got the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and obviously the jobs numbers that we’ve been seeing confirms how it’s affecting ordinary families all across America. But I’m confident that if we handle this properly that we can use it as an opportunity to put our economy on firmer footing for the long-term.
There are significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the stimulus package, related to state aid, education, health care and taxes. As the legislation goes to conference, are there any areas the Obama administration views as nonnegotiable in terms of the final bill?
What is nonnegotiable is four million jobs that need to be created. We are losing jobs at a rapid clip, 3.6 million last year but we’ve lost almost half of those jobs in the last three months alone. So, the problem is accelerating, not getting better. We can’t have a package that is too small to deal with the magnitude of the problem. Within the package that is needed, I’m happy to negotiate and work with members of Congress around what the right balance is, tax cuts versus key investments, but that 4 million job number is nonnegotiable.
In the Senate version of the package, some $40 billion has been cut from state aid. That is one of the areas you want to target to ensure that jobs are created right away.
State governments are seeing their budgets hemorrhage and we’re going to have to give them help so that they don’t lay off workers who, in turn, stop spending which, in turn, has enormous impact on the private sector. And I think it is very important for us to make sure that we’re getting these countercyclical payments in place to ensure that teachers, police officers and firefighters aren’t being laid off and that states can absorb the increased numbers of people who require unemployment insurance as well as healthcare support.
In terms of unemployment, last Friday, we witnessed the unemployment rate increase to 7.6% and African American unemployment jumped to 12.6%. When are workers expected to gain employment from the first round of jobs? How will you measure the impact of the overall success of the stimulus package going forward?
If we invest in areas like clean energy and weatherizing homes, just to take an example, then not only are we creating immediate jobs for people who may have been in the housing sector or young people who are currently out of work and need to be trained in the construction trades, we’re also helping to save the families, whose home is weatherized, [money on] their electricity bill or energy bills. We are also weaning ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil. Those kinds of combinations of measures that deal with the short-term crisis, but also lay the foundation for long-term economic growth, are absolutely critical.