- - Monday, January 11, 2021

Thin majorities in Congress offer President-elect Joe Biden the opportunity to be bold. He can challenge moderate Republicans to support programs that would boost jobs and incomes where the economy is now, next year and expected to be in 10 years.

The recent unemployment report was a shocker — nearly 500,000 jobs lost in the restaurant, recreation and hospitality sectors overwhelmed growth elsewhere — but another round of stimulus checks of up to $2,000 for all households that earn less than $150,000 would be wrong-headed.

Folks who work from home or whose jobs have been otherwise insulated from shutdowns have not suffered large income losses and without commuting costs, many have actually gained financially. New stimulus payments would be saved, used to pay down debt or spent, not on necessities, but rather mostly on gadgets and furnishings that often swell the trade deficit.

That doesn’t create jobs for the emerging army of 5 million permanently unemployed or tax revenues for cash-strapped state and local governments.

The unemployed and those workers reduced to part-time are running out of savings, maxing out credit cards and face evictions. Targeted aid to those in severe distress — much greater than $2,000 per household — would be spent on food, rent and necessities that create more demand for U.S.-produced goods and services, as opposed to imports.

Simply, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, assistance for the unemployed does more to create jobs and growth than welfare checks for comfortable suburban voters.

The stock market hit new records as the jobs report was published and President Trump’s angry hoard stormed the Capitol, because investors recognize 80% of the economy and its corporate profits will recover this spring and summer. It’s the stranded 20% where Mr. Biden should focus.  

With work from home institutionalizing and raising productivity, many urban employment centers need repurposed to be more mixed residential-commercial use. Workers that sold services to commuters will have to reskill and often relocate, but the nation has real opportunities to create less-dense, more-humane patterns of commuting, work and home life.

Rebuilding transportation systems to support redesigned cities, rather than trying to simply rehabilitate failing mass transit and bus systems, should be a central theme in any major infrastructure plan the Biden administration tables.

The Green Economy is a jobs killer not a jobs creator. Electric cars contain fewer components than gas-powered vehicles and will last a lot longer. Solar fields and windmill farms once commissioned require many fewer employees than the supply chains of fracking wells, pipelines and gas-powered turbines those replace.

The Green Economy is a brutal brigade of virtual robots that will stealthily destroy millions of blue collar jobs and stoke greater alienation among middle Americans and urban activists who stormed the Capitol and occupied Seattle.

The primary quality refuge for displaced Manhattan sandwich makers and Detroit assemblers will be in the fast-growing digital economy but free tuition for young folks to immerse in Woke Studies at state universities simply will create high quality unemployment and literate disaffection. We need more university-trained engineering students but also compulsory technical education in high schools.

The nation needs a three-part economic strategy:

• Immediate aid to the unemployed to pay for rent and necessities: federal subsidies to extend state unemployment benefits to the end of 2021 and boost those with a reasonable federal supplement — perhaps $400 per week — to total no more than 75% of lost wages.

• Extended assistance to help permanently displaced sandwich makers, airline pilots and cruise directors enroll in industry-based training programs. Businesses should be aggressively recruited and subsidized to hire the long-term unemployed for three months to two years of training if those businesses either hire them afterward or place them with an industry partner for a minimum of two years.

• Refashioned high schools that emphasize college preparation less and require every graduate to master a digital or other in-demand trade. The reading and writing competencies needed for college level work are largely accomplished in middle school. The math, science and additional courses needed for college, even for those planning STEM majors, should only occupy about a half of the high school curriculum — the rest of adolescent education should be spent acquiring a skill immediately marketable upon graduation. 

All of this would redirect the conversation away from the divisive agendas of the radical left and ideological right and refocus the efforts of the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education away from affirmative action to affirmative opportunity — a bigger economy with places for everyone that are not color coded.

• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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