President Obama on jobs in our exclusive interview #ObamaToday:
Why, at a time when corporate America is enjoying record profits, have you been unable to convince businesses to hire more people, Mr. President?
"..I don't think it's a matter of me being unable to convince them to hire more people...They're making decisions based on what they think will be good for their companies...
There are some structural issues with our economy, where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank, and you use-- a ATM, you don't go to a bank teller. Or you go to a retail store, and there are very few people-- who are working. Or you go to the airport, and you're using a kiosk, instead of-- checking in at the gate. So all these things have created changes in the economy.
And what we have to do now, and that's what the jobs council is about, is identifying where the jobs for the future are gonna be. How do we make sure that there's a match between what people are getting trained for, and the jobs that exist?
ANN CURRY: That said, you know that with 14 million Americans unemployed, and another eight-and-a-half-- are unable to get full time work, that there is a lot of human suffering--
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.
..attached to this. We're talking about bankruptcies, homelessness, hunger. People also suffering a tremendous amount of psychic pain. The stress of this, the shame of this. And--people have started to wonder, because you speak so calmly about this, whether you really, truly empathize with these people, who've lost their jobs..
...who are suffering. And people are asking, you know, why are you not angrier?
You know, first of all, I don't think people are asking that. Maybe some in the press might be asking that. I think ordinary folks understand I spend all my time thinking about this stuff, because I'm talking to these folks every single day. I wake up every morning thinking about how can I help that man in North Carolina, or that woman in Indiana, or that family in Pennsylvania, get back on their feet. Because they write me letters, and they say, Mr. President, we're about to lose our house. Can you help us?" "Mr. President, I've worked here for 30 years. And right before retirement I got laid off. What do I do now?" And I have to write back to 'em. And when I see 'em at meetings and they start crying.. the notion, somehow, that-- I'm calm about that-- is nonsense. But what is true is that as President, my job is to make sure that I am finding every good idea that we can to move the country forward...our investments in clean energy, making sure.. community colleges-- are more effectively training our workers for jobs. Making sure that the economy as a whole is not burdened by-- regulations that are outdated, or don't make sense. Making sure that we continue-- the kinds of tax cuts for small businesses that have made a difference. And that we're also providing financing for those small businesses.
If what we do works, and people see progress, and feel a sense that it's making a difference-- then-- they are going to respond-- and-- and they're gonna feel more confident. But until they actually see some difference in their lives-- you know, they're gonna continue to be frustrated, and so am I
Well, part of the worry is it used to be that when there was corporate growth, jobs would follow. That has not happened this time. And so there's a lot of concern that maybe what's happening is something that's kind of intrinsic, something that's going to be part of the future. And so it sort of begs the question, in hindsight, did you miss an opportunity by focusing on health care, and not focusing enough on job creation?
You know-- I have to tell you, Ann, everything I thought about, over the first two years was how do we get the economy back on track. That's what we focused on then, that's what we focus on now. But health care is part of our challenge. Because if companies are spending billions of dollars on rising health care costs, that's money that they're not putting into hiring the workers, or new plants, or equipment... And if you talk to any of these businesses, large or small, and they will tell ya, as a consequence of their health care costs going up 25 percent..50 percent, or in some cases 100 percent, that has a dampening impact on their ability to invest, and create jobs... We're gonna have to rebuild our infrastructure because a lot of the unemployment that's been taking place is in the construction areas. And if we've got a bunch of guys out there who know how to do things, know how to build things, and could be put to work right now revamping our roads, our bridges, our transportation sector, generally, all that would drive down unemployment in a pretty steady way.
On this point, it was conceivable last year for you to start a kind of jobs program, a kind of WPA project, that could have addresses this issue. Some of the infrastructure problems, that this country has. That those people you're talking about could have gone back to work. Today, you couldn't get that passed..
No, but Ann.. that's what the Recovery Act was. Out of $800 billion that we passed in early 2009, about a third of it was tax cuts..Second thing was to provide assistance to states...and the third thing was an infrastructure program that was the largest since the interstate highway program of the 1950s. I mean, so we've had projects all across America, rebuilding roads-- water system, ports. All that stuff put people to work. Now, there is an argument that's been made that we should have done even more of that. But, frankly, one of the challenges we've got is there's also a big deficit debt that I inherited, that we've had to deal with. So part of the challenge here is how do we encourage growth? How do we put people back to work? And, at the same time, how do we make sure that government is living within its means, because part of the uncertainty that's out there is people not sure whether Washington can get its act together.