It's telling that some are heralding 7.8 percent unemployment as a hopeful sign. After all, Americans used to consider joblessness the exception, not the rule. But going on four years of record unemployment, it seems to be becoming the norm in the United States.
President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have made big promises when it comes to job creation, but Americans hear promises from politicians all the time. What's important is how our elected leaders intend to go about fulfilling them.
A key part of the solution is manufacturing. Manufacturing means jobs and economic growth. As the economic sector with the strongest multiplier effect in terms of investment and jobs, when manufacturing thrives, the entire economy benefits. The United States, however, has erected too many barriers for manufacturers to compete with others around the world. Compared to our major trading partners, it's 20 percent more expensive to manufacture in the United States due to policies we have imposed on ourselves, such as burdensome tax rates and excessive regulations. That disadvantage does not include the cost of labor.
The bad news is that our leaders have neglected these obstacles to job creation for too long. The good news is we have the ability to tear them down.
During the first presidential debate last week, Mr. Romney laid out a strong jobs program built on pro-growth fundamentals. For one thing, he understands the impact of tax policy on businesses. When businesses are allowed to keep more of what they earn, they have more resources to hire new workers and expand their enterprises. The economy wins -- and ironically, so does the government. As Mr. Romney noted, when people have jobs that allow them to pay taxes in the first place, revenues rise. That's why a growing economy is essential not just for creating jobs but for solving our long-term debt challenge.
Despite the evidence that competitive tax policies work for our economy, many businesses are staring at a looming tax hike that will stop job creation squarely in its tracks. Two-thirds of manufacturers pay taxes at individual rates, which, barring congressional action, will rise substantially Jan. 1. These small- and medium-sized businesses weather competitive pressures from abroad as well as uncompetitive policies here at home and provide secure, well-paying jobs in communities across the country. They can't afford yet another burden.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney rightly agreed our corporate tax rate is too high. Republicans and Democrats have for some time agreed with the principle that the rate is too high, but have been unable to find a way forward even as our competitors have lowered their rates.
The candidates differed sharply on energy policy. Manufacturers, who use one-third of our nation's energy supply, took notice. To compete and drive job creation, they need affordable and consistent energy resources.
Mr. Obama, who has consistently called for higher taxes on oil and gas companies, continued to demonize the industry. It's a stance in stark contrast with his call for an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy. Also at odds with that strategy is his continued resistance to the construction of the complete Keystone XL pipeline. Mr. Romney was absolutely right to call for the approval of the pipeline. Keystone XL represents one of the strongest opportunities for job creation in the past couple of years and a major step toward North American energy security.
Pro-growth tax and energy policies will help create new jobs, but another way to stem unemployment is to fill the jobs that are open today. Despite record joblessness, 600,000 jobs are going unfilled because manufacturers can't find workers with the right skills for these positions. Closing the skills gap requires that all students have a firm command of the expertise needed to succeed in the workplace. Increasingly, however, jobs -- especially those in manufacturing -- are requiring workers to have more specialized training and knowledge. A focus on science, technology, engineering and math education opportunities is a critical step in preparing the workforce for jobs in modern manufacturing.
It's clear the status quo isn't working. Manufacturing, for example, lost jobs the past two months, but the first presidential debate demonstrated that there are solutions to our jobs problem.
Manufacturers have long advocated for pro-growth policies; with the nation's attention firmly on jobs, we are eager to see them take hold. When they do, we will be leading the way, creating jobs and ensuring prosperity for generations to come.
Jay Timmons is the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.