After 25 years of speaking with companies about the work associated with positions and about improving the productivity and other metrics associated with those positions, I continue to be intrigued by the on-going conversation about the number of “jobs created or saved” by various economic stimulus initiatives in the United States. I continue to hold the position that people in Washington DC either have no idea what they mean by the phrase “jobs created or saved” or they mean something entirely different than most people I talk to in the private sector.
A job is the work somebody does to earn money. On the surface getting people jobs appears to be a good thing. Get people to work. Get them paid for doing work. Get the money into the economy to pay for other goods and services. In the short run, creating work for people to get paid for doing may be necessary and appropriate. Longer term, however, shanghai job creation may not be sufficient.
One challenge with job, or work, creation by the federal government is that the sustainability of the work may rely on the continuation of funding by the federal government unless the work created has its basis in the underlying economy. Ideally, for a federal government job creation program to be sustainable and, in the long run, a good thing, the created jobs should fill sustained needs within the respective communities. Jobs associated with a stimulus-funded construction project may be a good thing short term, especially for the individuals hired by the firm, but when the project is complete what work fills the new void for those individuals?
The other challenge associated with the current “jobs created or saved” is that it generally does not seem to consider whether the people doing these new jobs were employed doing something else before coming into the new position. Combined with reports of miscounting, the credibility of the reported results is questionable. On the other hand, if self-reporting of “jobs created or saved” the only metric available for a quick assessment of progress, then that metric should be used with care and with the recognition that the perceived improvement may be short term at best.
As for the sustainability factor, we eventually need to get community leaders, elected and non-elected, looking at long-term community needs and long-term solutions. It seems surreal to be using economic stimulus money, for example, to be addressing long-standing issues associated with the disruptive change experienced by the auto industry and the steel industry in Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere. Using stimulus money may help people short term, but a short-term infusion of cash cannot remedy 20 years or more of troubled economy. Leaders in long-suffering regions need to identify industries that can be sustainably stimulated, not just jobs. While some argue that “clean coal technology” is unattainable, it is an example of the type of industry that may be needed to sustainably stimulate the economy. While fixing a few roads may provide short-term relief, for longer-term impact somebody might want to look at how to fix roads better or to build roads that need fewer repairs, if at all.