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Phila. jobs commission? Been there, done that

How high can hopes be when so little action has followed two previous attempts to improve the city's climate for business and thus jobs.

Ask me how thrilled I am that we'll soon have a jobs commission in Philadelphia to come up with ways to put people to work.

Not that we don't need to reverse the decades-long decline in employment in the city. It's just that this is the wrong way to go about it.

In case you missed it amid all the excitement over the Pennsylvania primary election, voters in the city on May 17 approved a ballot question establishing a 17-member jobs commission.

The only good thing is this commission could have a brief existence given that its report is due for City Council approval no later than Jan. 31.

I'm sure Mayor Nutter will be able to find nine people, and City Council President Anna Verna eight, to serve as members. But after the vacuum that followed the work of another task force less than two years ago, I don't know why private-sector professionals would waste their time volunteering for this one.

The Mayor's Task Force on Tax Policy and Economic Competitiveness was formed by executive order in February 2009 and submitted its 42-page report that October. Now, I know it didn't have jobs in its name, but the task force did recommend changes in tax structure, tax mix, tax base, and tax level that it believed would create and retain 70,000 jobs by 2025.

You can read that report on the city's website here and an earlier one, issued in November 2003 by the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission, gathering dust at here (The latter was also created via a ballot question amending the City Charter.)

No, you didn't miss the revolution that followed the release of both thoughtful reports. After the handshakes and thank-yous were exchanged, the calls to action faded and the reports were treated like relics instead of road maps.

The proof is in the numbers. Employment numbers do bounce around month to month. They rise and fall in a year. But looked at over a decade, they show a city job base that is still declining. When the tax reform panel completed its (postrecession) work in 2003, employment stood at 578,597 in the city, and the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In October 2009, the month the mayor's commission issued its (postrecession) report, employment was 582,907 in Philadelphia and the jobless rate 10.5 percent. When Nutter formed the commission that February, 591,414 were employed.

The most recent read on employment in the city was 576,091 in March, and the unemployment rate had decreased to 9.9 percent. That rate was the lowest it had been since June 2009 -- the end of the U.S. recession.

There is no magic hat from which to pull jobs. And I doubt the third time will be a charm for any city panel seeking to conjure up remedies that haven't been suggested before. And if somehow it does, will the small audience of the mayor and Council even pay attention?