The leading question of the day, President Obama said in a widely publicized jobs forum in Washington yesterday, is: "How do we get businesses to start hiring again?"
In Philadelphia, ideas and answers to that question flowed yesterday in the Convention Center, where State Reps. Dwight Evans and John Myers, both city Democrats, held a local version attended by at least 130 politicians, labor leaders, nonprofit executives, and businesspeople.
More than 20 of them spoke in a wide-ranging discussion on topics that included workforce training, green jobs, dredging the Delaware River, poor educational quality, global competitiveness, and a culture that emphasizes jobs over the kind of entrepreneurship that creates jobs.
"We're not inspiring our young people with the confidence we need to get the victimhood message out and the empowerment message in," said RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, president of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a business-development nonprofit group.
In the end, there were three main points:
The federal government should create a public-jobs program similar to the Works Progress Administration created by President Roosevelt during the Depression.
"I think they are trying to figure out what the politics are" on that issue, said Mayor Nutter, who said the time was right to lobby Washington to develop a public-employment program.
"We could put thousands of Philadelphians to work in parks and recreation and after-school programs," Nutter said. "I want to go to 18th and Diamond and say, 'You five guys [on the corner]: You want to work today? I have a job for you.' "
The frozen credit market remains a barrier, particularly for small businesses that might be more willing to hire the tough-to-employ.
"With the economic crisis, everyone's scared to death to lend any kind of money," said Patrick Burns, chief executive officer of Fresh Grocer, a Drexel Hill regional chain that will hold an official opening of its Progress Plaza supermarket Dec. 11 in North Philadelphia.
Burns said loan guarantees "are so essential" and might even be more helpful than tax credits.
Regionalism matters. The economic crisis has demonstrated the need for urban-suburban cooperation, particularly on common issues such as transportation.
"Public transportation - if we build it, they will come," said Patrick Eiding, who heads the Philadelphia Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO. He asked the group to imagine the job-creation benefits that would accrue from a railroad that ran parallel to Route 422 in the suburbs.
Yesterday's Philadelphia summit came on the eve of today's monthly U.S. Labor Department report on the national job situation. The unemployment rate is expected to rise above 10.2 percent.
Before yesterday's summit began, the U.S. Labor Department released local employment figures: Between October 2008 and last October, 57,100 jobs were lost in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties, with 21,200 gone from the city alone.
With the job market in this mess, Myers said, he knows what his constituents want. "You don't want me to fix [a] ticket," he said. "You want me to get you a job."
Jerome Stone, an unemployed certified nurse assistant from North Philadelphia, did not get an invitation to Obama's jobs summit in Washington yesterday. Nor did he make it to the gathering at the Convention Center. But he had a stark assessment of the challenge the nation faces as unemployment tops 10.2 percent.
"There are no jobs out there, you know," he said yesterday, as he got ready to board a bus to Washington to picket for extended unemployment benefits and jobs.
"If they stopped unemployment benefits right now, there'd be 15 million people living in the streets."