Editorial: Make the focus on high-value jobs

Published 12:10 pm Monday, October 15, 2012

Although the latest unemployment data have generated a lot of controversy — some have claimed that the unexpectedly large gain in jobs was the result of tampering designed to make the current administration look better — the bigger question is whether those numbers mean much at all. There is more to job creation than simply the number of jobs and it is time for American leaders to start talking about that.

First, it is worth noting that there’s no evidence of any tampering with the data. It’s also worth noting that the estimate of unemployment is based on a survey that has an error component that can amount to hundreds of thousands of jobs. But neither of those points is as important as this one: Does adding a few hundred thousand jobs actually do anything for the economy?

The reality is that the bulk of the jobs that come and go on a monthly basis are not permanent, high-wage jobs. Candidates from both sides of the political spectrum love to argue about who is creating jobs or driving jobs away, but they very seldom talk about what those jobs are worth. That is because both parties have been active in advancing barrier-free global trade that effectively drags the value of all jobs down as manufacturing moves from country to country in search of the cheapest labor. The political discussion should not be about the number of jobs, but about the value of jobs — specifically, about what the candidates would do to protect the level of wages now paid in the United States.

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As long as it is easy and profitable to hire labor for very low rates elsewhere, and market the resulting goods and services in the United States, the difficulty of maintaining or growing job value will be extreme. Politicians — notably our presidential candidates — should stop talking about the number of jobs created and focus on ways that high-value jobs can be created. That change of emphasis might help the economy.