Whose Job Is Jobs, Anyway?

With Businesses Sitting on Billions, It's Time for Them to Act

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Rance Crain
Rance Crain

An Ad Age headline a few weeks back proclaimed that it was "a risky new pitch" for American businesses to promise jobs when they might have to lay off employees instead. But isn't it time to give the private sector a chance to extract us from the biggest economic mess since the Great Depression?

New York Times columnist David Brooks opined that we shouldn't expect our government to bail us out of every jam we get into. "Over the past decades, Americans have developed an absurd view of the power of government. Many voters seem to think that government has the power to protect them from the consequences of their sins. Then they get angry and cynical when it turns out it can't," Mr. Brooks wrote.

Well, there are certainly lots of angry and cynical (and disgusted) people out there, but I think a big reason is that they are sick and tired of the constant wrangling between President Obama and Congress. Every time either side opens its mouth, the American people become more worried and uncertain about whether the economy is ever going to recover.

Why doesn't everybody just shut up? As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks said recently in a full-page ad, "I am frustrated by our political leaders' steadfast refusal to recognize that , for every day they perpetuate partisan conflict and put ideology over country, America and Americans suffer from the combined effects of paralysis and uncertainty. Americans can't find jobs. Small businesses can't get credit. And the fracturing of consumer confidence continues."

Remember when your mother used to say, "If you can't say anything nice about somebody, don't say anything?" These guys in Washington can't say anything nice, so it's up to the private sector to take the initiative in creating jobs and restoring confidence.

And that 's what's beginning to happen. I wrote about the idea of direct marketing guru Stan Rapp for business to hire 1 million new employees back in January, and now the project has gathered real momentum. Last week, at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, National Jobs Day was announced with the goal of hiring a million people by the end of the year. And a resolution was introduced in the U.S. Senate proclaiming Nov. 1 as America's first National Jobs Day. Stan -- who is chairman-emeritus of Engauge, the agency handling the Facebook portion of the effort -- has recruited some high-powered talent to spread the word, including retired General Wesley Clark; Jerry Jones, chief legal officer of Acxiom Corp. and longtime friends of the Clintons; and Rodney Slater, former secretary of transportation under President Clinton. Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor from President Clinton's home state of Arkansas introduced the jobs resolution.

The idea is to encourage firms with more than 100 employees to hire one more person for every 100 now employed, and for the 2 million companies with fewer than 100 employees to add one more job. The alternative, Stan says, is that "we're looking at a lost generation. The risk of not doing it is so much greater" than hiring one more employee.

Even though he's lined up considerable support (one sponsor, AARP, is concerned about joblessness for those over 50), Stan told me a companion initiative in Ireland has generated a lot of free media support. "I made a big mistake by not involving media," he said. He wants to enlist major media players for his jobs push.

McDonald's and an outfit called Move Detroit 11/11/11 have employed similar appeals to advance hiring. McDonald's in the spring launched National Hiring Day to recruit 50,000 people to its workforce of 600,000. As we said when we reported the story: "The push aims to recast McJob -- a derogatory slang for a low-paying, dead-end job -- into a desirable employment opportunity."

Detroit, for its part, is working to attract hip young people to its downtown. So it created Move Detroit 11/11/11 with the aim of getting 1,100 people to move to Detroit by November, according to The New York Times. In addition, the Atlanta Business Chronicle started a "Hire One" campaign urging every business in the area to hire one additional full-time worker.

Playing off our headline, I asked Stan why U.S. companies should commit to hiring 1 million new people when things look so bleak. He said the jobs push isn't just advocating hiring as an answer to the burden on the unemployed. "What we advocate is hiring that starts the economy humming again."

Further, business is sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in accumulated earnings from good profits during the past two years, but "getting along with the fewest number of employees adds up to exactly what may bring on another crash," Stan warns.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek argued this summer that what government does doesn't matter much anymore. "Bold plans with no chance of success" -- think the millionaire's tax -- "won't change unemployment patterns or make a nation competitive and compelling in a global system that is increasingly complex and dynamic. Today's leaders need the humility to recognize what they can't change so they can meaningfully change what they can."

Humility has never been one of President Obama's strong suits, but it certainly seems that employment is one of the areas that his administration hasn't been able to budge. It's up to the private sector to step up to the plate.

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