JOHN DODDS had his crew out early. You don't want to show up late for a presidential summit.

A busload of unemployed and underemployed workers from the Philadelphia Unemployment Project joined scores of other displaced workers from around the country who had invited themselves to the summit.

They would not find their names on the badges or the guest list of important labor leaders and corporate execs whom President Obama sat with at the Old Executive Office Building in Washington on Thursday. The laid-off workers were being talked about, not talked to.

But, waving their placards and doing their labor line dance outside the gate, they served as a visual aid for the VIPs who hurried past them on the way into their meeting with the president.

"The guards were like, 'Get lost,' " said Dodd, who has been running PUP for 35 years. "You would have had to be the Salahis to get past them.

"But it was good to be there to exert some pressure and to just let them see us.

"Someone from the White House staff came down and accepted our letter asking for a meeting with the president. Andy Stern, who runs the Service Employees International Union, took one of our buttons and said that he'd wear it to the meeting proudly. Some of them came out and spoke to us."

The "summit" meeting marked the start of the president's push for a massive jobs program to offset the worst unemployment numbers in a quarter century. Apparently unemployment is next in line for an intense intervention. Health reform seems imminent and they have thrown a TARP over those financial firms that were too big to fail.

Two developments dove-tailed with the summit. The administration announced that TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, will lose $200 billion less than expected. And adjusted unemployment figures came in at a slightly smaller but still unconscionable 10 percent.

The 10 percenters who showed up outside the gate Thursday are looking to tap into that found money.

Most of the Democrats in Congress, and even leaders in the private sector, agree in principle that this crisis will require some government intervention. Where principle and policy diverge is on the issue of using government money to create jobs.

"We should be putting people to work in public jobs programs designed to help communities by repairing rusting infrastructure," Dodds said. "In the '70s, we put 4,000 to 5,000 people to work in this region in the CETA program. It's time to do that again.

"I'd like to see federal aid to cities and states to avert possible layoffs of public employees.

"We want to see an extension of unemployment benefits. The last extension will expire just in time for Christmas. Those laid off after July 1 will not get extended benefits unless Congress acts."

It could cost billions. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that we would have to spend about $40 billion in federal stimulus money to produce a million jobs. It wouldn't cost a quarter of that $200 billion.

But chipping away at the unemployment numbers may just mask America's most-intractable job crisis: We have been losing "good jobs" for more than 30 years.

"Good jobs" are those that can support a decent standard of living with health and retirement benefits. EPI and the Center for Budget Priorities define that as a job paying at least $14.51 an hour or $30,182 a year.

Over the last 30 years, according to a survey by Algernon Austin of the EPI, the number of jobs that meet that standard have fallen from 34.5 percent to 27.6 percent.

In other words, only one in four jobs in America support a minimal standard of living for a family of four and provide health and retirement benefits.

We are becoming a nation of people who work every day and still need help meeting our basic needs.

If big financial institutions needed a TARP, American workers need a tourniquet.

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith