WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will convene a high-level conference on Thursday to discuss how to get more Americans back to work after U.S. unemployment hit a generation high of 10.2 percent.
The forum kicks off at 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) with remarks by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and wraps up with a discussion led by Obama scheduled to start at 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT).
Confirmed guests include the chief executives of Google Inc, AT&T Inc, Quest Diagnostics Inc, FedEx Corp, Comcast Corp, Walt Disney Co, Boeing and Dow Chemical Co.
Ideas likely to surface include extending unemployment insurance and financial aid to cash-strapped states. The White House says attendees from business, labor, finance and the nonprofit world will specifically focus on six topics:
* Boosting U.S. exports: Obama said during a recent trip to Asia that a one percent increase in the United States’ share of exports to the region would create 250,000 new U.S. jobs. He also wants to know what the United States could learn from export-giant Germany.
* Encouraging firms to accelerate hiring as demand picks up: This panel will be led by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Christina Romer who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Obama has said using the tax code to aid job creation may have merit, and some advocate a payroll tax credit for every new job created. Critics say it will be hard to distinguish between firms who would have hired more staff anyway and those specifically motivated by the tax credit.
* Boosting exports and switching the U.S. business model away from consumption-driven growth: This talk will be chaired by Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, and head of the U.S. export-import bank Fred Hochberg.
* Fresh steps to help small businesses get access to credit: This discussion will be led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The AFL-CIO labor federation suggests diverting money not spent under a $700 billion bank bailout, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to help small businesses obtain loans. The administration has said that it would like to finds ways to point TARP funds toward smaller community banks, who are the traditionally lenders to small businesses.
* Ideas to create so-called green, or energy efficient, jobs by encouraging energy efficiency and renewable technology investment: Session to be led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
* Infrastructure investment: Session led by Budget Director Peter Orszag and Transport Secretary Ray LaHood.
Ideas also likely to be aired during the conference:
* Retraining workers in industries that have stopped growing to prepare them for more promising fields of commerce.
* Extending unemployment insurance again. Under both Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat Obama, Congress extended jobless benefits, most recently when Obama signed a bill on November 6 to give aid for as much as 20 more weeks for Americans whose benefits were otherwise about to expire. With 15.7 million people out of work, it may be very hard politically for Obama to oppose an extension despite the cost.
* Aiding state and local governments: States face a $144 billion budget shortfall in fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, after the worst U.S. recession in 70 years hit revenues. Because of rules requiring all states except Vermont to balance their budgets, this will mean heavy cuts in services and the layoff of public workers like teachers and firemen unless other money is found. One way Washington could help would be increasing the federal match for states’ Medicaid payments.
Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Alan Elsner