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Demos Asks Obama to Step Up on Creating Good Jobs

In case you missed it: The economy is kind of in the dumps. With unemployment still uncomfortably high and real wages stagnating, lots of progressives are trying to figure out ways to kick-start the economy.

Demos and The American Prospect (TAP), in its forthcoming collaborative special report, have noted that though Congress has passed a $26 billion jobs bill earlier this month, they want the Obama administration to do something about the jobs problem as well. In a call today with bloggers and reporters, they outlined some ways Obama could kick-start jobs without congressional intervention.

As I mentioned earlier today, one of the themes that gets repeated in discussions about the economy is to push for more education. But as TAP founder and Demos senior fellow Robert Kuttner notes in the introduction, "It’s true that well-educated U.S. workers have been better defended against these trends. On the other hand, economists report that tens of millions of Americans with college degrees are already performing jobs that don’t require a college education. It is neither feasible nor necessary for every American to get an advanced degree as a defense against faltering earnings."

As Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute said on the call, "We can expect real wage decline for a number of years to come."

But before young people panic about the state of the economy, there is a possible solution: The Obama administration to use its power to award government contracts to leverage better jobs in the economy. According to the report, the government spends $500 billion on goods and services through government contracts each year—affecting roughly one in four jobs in all of the U.S. economy.

It seems Congress has given the administration the power to place conditions on those contracts—and the courts have backed them up. Ann O'Leary, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) senior fellow, notes that "This authority has been used by many presidents for many years." The Johnson administration once used government contracts to leverage widespread affirmative action policies, not just on the contracts procured by the government but company-wide. In a video for the CAP website, O'Leary noted that contracts could be used to create more family-friendly policies for workers.

In the TAP/Demos report, David Moberg that investigates current government contracts with companies like the meal ration manufacturer, Wornick, which pays their employees less than $10 an hour. Few of Warnick's employees are able to afford the company's health insurance plan. This is one instance in which the Obama administration could use its power of awarding contracts to place requirements of fair wages and good benefits on the companies from which it solicits services.

Of course, the report also argues that if the Department of Labor also put its effort into more strictly cracking down on violations of existing labor law, like some of the reports of Wal-Mart misclassifying warehouse workers as temporary employees. Though the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has fallen to the bottom of the pile of legislative priorities this congressional session, the report argues that "a lot is possible without EFCA."

Ultimately the report tells the story that leveraging better job isn't just something we should sit by and hope employers will be good enough to do on their own or something that we necessarily have to rely on a dysfunctional Congress to take care of. The Obama administration has the power to create a progressive jobs agenda. The question is if they will use it.

Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.

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