Looking for jobs

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The creation of jobs has become a mantra of the U.S. economic recovery effort. For perspective, consider the fact that the nation's current 5.6 unemployment rate is the same as it was in 1996 when President Clinton was seeking re-election and the nation was in the middle of what turned out to be one of the longest economic booms in the nation's history.

But there is no doubt that a great deal of confidence among consumers and investors would be bolstered if enough jobs could be created to replace those lost during the recession of 1991-92.

The latest national figures for job creation are weak. Total payrolls in December rose by 8,000, in January by 97,000 and in February by 21,000. All the February growth was in government positions, while private-sector employment remained flat, and the gain was far short of the 125,000 new jobs some economists has projected.

Meanwhile, Missouri has a bit of good news. The state's unemployment rate is 5.2 percent, below the national average. And Missouri created more new jobs than 42 other states and more than any of the surrounding states. This was especially welcome news for Gov. Bob Holden, who has been the target of considerable criticism as a result of the huge job losses in the state during the economic downturn.

But Kelvin Simmons, director of the Department of Economic Development, hopes Missouri can do much better than that. While visiting Cape Girardeau several days ago, Simmons outlined a new program touted by Holden called Jobs Now.

Under Jobs Now, which requires legislative approval, the state would use revenue currently funding some research, transportation and business facilities tax credits. The anticipated $12 million to $15 million a year would be used for payments on $150 million to $200 million of bonds for direct grants and loans to pay for public infrastructure, to leverage federal and other non-state dollars and to fund life-sciences programs at colleges and universities.

Using bond money to kick-start major initiatives in those areas would create jobs, the Holden administration believes.

There's much to applaud in any plan that both meets some of the state's capital-expense needs while adding jobs. The Jobs Now program deserves a thorough review from legislators.

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