Bill Clinton's group offers recipe for US economy

Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:50pm EDT

* Banks have $2 trillion in cash to loan out

* Nearly three million job openings left unfilled

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO, June 29 (Reuters) - If U.S. banks loaned out their $2 trillion cash hoard, if worker training programs were stepped up and if 3 million job openings were filled, the economic recovery would be far stronger, a panel assembled by former President Bill Clinton said on Wednesday.

Clinton opened the meeting of his six-year-old Clinton Global Initiative with a discussion entitled "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs," that the organization for the first time is focused squarely on the United States.

"The banks in America have well over $2 trillion in cash not committed to loans. Now, there's nowhere near $2 trillion in loan demand out there but there's some that is unsatisfied," Clinton told the gathering of 750 leaders of business, government and nonprofit organizations.

Clinton opened the two-day conference by announcing several "commitments" by business and labor groups aimed at financing new jobs.

Since the former president created the organization in 2005, he said he has secured $63 billion in commitments that have helped 300 million people globally.

The economy is recovering more slowly from what has been dubbed the Great Recession than any downturn since World War Two. Though the recession formally ended in mid-2009, the economy is being held back by sluggish job growth, weak housing prices and meager demand for loans.

"The current path of the economy means we will not close the job gap until 2023," former Clinton presidential aide Laura Tyson told the gathering, referring to recovering not only jobs lost in the recession but also creating jobs for the influx of 125,000 new workers a month.

Clinton hailed a program in the U.S. state of Georgia that helps companies that are reluctant to hire workers.

Georgia trains aspiring workers for six weeks, then pays them while they "audition" at their jobs, said former state labor commissioner Michael Thurmond, a member of the panel.

Clinton said filling the estimated 3 million U.S. job openings would halve the nation's 9.1 percent unemployment rate. But job openings are being filled at half the pace of previous recessions, he said.

Mississippi's Republican Governor Haley Barbour, another panelist, said: "We have to quit stigmatizing skills training."

Barbour said his state had funded job training programs at community colleges, rather than spending money on unemployment insurance.

Clinton said he had been looking to other countries for solutions. Germany, he said, was particularly innovative in subsidizing 20 percent of the pay of workers who would otherwise be laid off. (Editing by Philip Barbara)

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