A lot of effort goes into writing a State of the Union address. The media and pundits are scouring the speech for hidden meaning, so every word must convey exactly what the president intends. That is not to say that Mr. Obama necessarily means what he says. Sometimes, obvious statements mean something very different from what they seem to represent.
To no one’s surprise, jobs will be the hot button issue for the 2011 address. The unemployment rate attests to abysmal job creation in 2010, so Mr. Obama has some explaining to do. 9.7% of the nation was unemployed in January 2010, and December 2010’s meager drop to 9.4% was due largely to job seekers throwing in the towel and dropping off of the statistical radar.
The president made his first annual address in February 2009 on the heels of a January unemployment report that showed a jump in joblessness from 7.2% to 7.6%. He stood ready to make investments that would create jobs, but the jobs he wanted to create occupied very specific categories:
Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.1
Government spending during a recession, portended by the president’s infrastructure (“energy”) investments, and support of unionized public sector jobs (“health care, and education”), does not bring down the deficit. Neither does a monstrous spending bill like the Recovery Act, which had just been signed into law.
President Obama’s 2009 address talked about creating millions of private sector jobs, but his examples focused on infrastructure projects that begged for union labor which would benefit from the Recovery Act’s mandatory Davis-Bacon giveaways (see: The Recovery Act Fraud You Don’t Know About):
Over the next two years, this plan [Recovery Act] will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.2
When the time came for the 2010 State of the Union address, the president had to explain why unemployment was stuck at 10%, and why we lost 85,000 jobs during the month before his speech. Ever-resourceful, President Obama took credit for two million jobs, but it was difficult to tell whether these were new jobs, or jobs we already had:
Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. (Applause.) Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. (Applause.) And we’re on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.3
Once again, the jobs he took credit for saving were in unionized professions, and many of these positions, such as teachers, police, and firefighters, were also in the public sector. Democrats would soon guarantee salaries for these public sector jobs with the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act of 2010.
The 2010 address also talked about small business. The president waxed nostalgic about the American entrepreneurial spirit:
We should start where most new jobs do –- in small businesses, companies that begin when — (applause) — companies that begin when an entrepreneur — when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides it’s time she became her own boss.4
But after suggesting a $30 billion community bank bailout, ostensibly to stimulate small business lending, the president segued back to those infrastructure jobs paid for by the Recovery Act, and in large part performed with union labor:
Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. (Applause.) There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation’s goods, services, and information. (Applause.)5
The president also suggested that we double exports in five years, which would “support” two million jobs.6 The number sounded good, but Mr. Obama never explained whether these jobs would be new jobs, or whether they already existed and just needed a little extra funding.
2010 is behind us. Unemployment remains unacceptably high. If last Saturday’s weekly address was any indication, our hopes are now pegged to a $45 billion deal with China expected to create 235,000 jobs. With 14.5 million people out of work, the president needs to do a lot better than that. Listen to his words carefully, or by the time tonight’s address is over, you might be convinced that he already has.