Everyone agrees that too many Americans are unemployed. Everyone agrees that putting more people to work would boost the economy. No one agrees on how to accomplish that.
A series of stories in the Mail Tribune last week laid out the grim reality:
Local employers say they need entry-level workers and returning workers willing to start at the bottom and work their way up to better-paying positions.
State government is poised to start revamping Oregon's workforce development programs to get workers into jobs more quickly, as Gov. John Kitzhaber directed Oregon officials to do starting in July. But a work group's recommendations don't have widespread support yet, and lawmakers say any real changes could be more than a year away.
In the meantime, the middle class, here and across the country, has taken hits as many workers were laid off, and those who managed to keep their jobs saw incomes erode as wages stayed flat while the cost of living kept rising.
Government cannot solve this problem by itself. Reorganizing state programs to assist job-seekers will go only so far, especially if the changes take a year or more to materialize. Spending more on post-high school education would help a great deal, because most jobs worth having increasingly require such training, but there is little agreement on how to pay for that.
Job-seekers have to come to grips with the reality that they must compete with many others for desirable positions, and to do that they need skills. They also must be willing to accept less pay at first in exchange for the opportunity to move up as their abilities improve.
For their part, employers must be willing to put some money where their complaints are, investing in their own training programs to teach new hires the skills they need.
Businesses also have a choice between keeping wages low and subsidizing their workers through tax-supported assistance programs or paying employees enough that they survive on their earnings without relying on government help. Payrolls contribute to the economy just as profits do.
To their credit, many employers realize this and are acting on it, as Travis Christian, Adroit Construction's business manager, told the Mail Tribune.
"There are some moral issues there," he said. "You have to look at the successful companies in the valley and see they made efforts to pay a good living wage."