Dear Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond:
You’ve been straightforward about how tough our labor market is for job seekers.
And you know the situation will stay depressed — or get even worse — as layoffs continue into next year. Already, more than six job seekers are competing for every open spot.
To replenish Georgia’s depleted unemployment insurance fund, you’re even planning to request a loan from the federal government, joining about half of the other states.
You’ve also been innovative with your Georgia Works program, which has helped thousands of workers, both white-collar and blue-collar, land jobs.
Copied by other states, it gives participating employers six weeks to train an unemployed worker, while the trainee collects unemployment insurance and a $50 weekly stipend. Many people have landed permanent jobs this way.
But, with all due respect, Commissioner, it’s time to step it up a notch.
To use your own words: “This is a crisis. … We need to take a timeout and do something.”
You’ve talked to me and some of my colleagues on more than one occasion about an idea that you’ve been kicking around quietly for several months now.
It’s a good idea and it’s time for you to pull the trigger.
Your idea is to invite some of the best local minds — from business, universities, technical colleges and government — to a summit meeting to see if a strategy can be developed to create more jobs here.
Your idea is for Democrats and Republicans to check their ideologies at the door and see if a job-creating framework can be established, despite the budget constraints that this recession is exacerbating. And you’re talking about a strategy that goes well beyond attracting corporate relocations, since about 500,000 people are jobless in the state.
“We need the best and the brightest to get in a room to talk about the economic future of Georgia,” you’ve said.
Well, call the meeting to order.
The states that make an investment in training and education now will have a “huge advantage” in a few years because “every downturn becomes an upturn,” you’ve said.
You’ve talked about the structural unemployment created by this recession and how tens of thousands of job seekers need to be retrained for the new economy that’s emerging.
You’ve even tagged what has been happening as a “he-cession.” That means a disproportionate number of men have been displaced because of the enormous contraction in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
You’re not arrogant enough to think you have all the answers. In fact, you may be more like some of the employers you’ve been struggling with lately.
“Many employers are afraid to hire now,” you said recently to several AJC reporters and editors. “They are just risk averse.”
Could you be falling into the same mindset?
I know you’re not the governor, but you’re not chopped liver, either. You’ve been elected three times to your statewide office. And your portfolio is employment and unemployment.
You told me recently: “I was born to be labor commissioner right now. You got to want the ball with three seconds left. I want the ball.”
You got it, man. What are you going to do with it?
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