What President Obama's Speech Means for College Students and Job Seekers

On September 8, 2011, President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out an ambitious plan aimed at creating jobs and reducing unemployment. Called the American Jobs Act, the president asked Congress to pass the legislation as soon as possible. If the act passes, what will it mean to college students and job seekers?

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By Harrison Howe


Hope for College Students?

Let's start with those in college, particularly students who are about to graduate and enter the job-seeking arena. In what way might they benefit from the American Jobs Act?

For one, the bill calls for tax cuts to small businesses when they hire new workers. This could help open up the job market. The bill is also calling for business leaders to train more engineers; Obama stated in his speech that 'other businesses are covering tuition for workers who learn new skills at community colleges.' So those seeking an engineering degree could certainly benefit should the American Jobs Act become law and if those business leaders 'mobilized', as the president said, by the Obama administration mimic what those other businesses are doing.

A $1,500 tax cut for working families and more help for people to refinance their mortgages, resulting in a potential savings of more than $2,000 per year, was also mentioned by Obama as part of this proposed bill. This type of savings might make a difference for some parents between not affording to keep their children in college and allowing them to remain in school.

On the other hand, Obama's plan calls for more assistance in helping veterans and those who have been unemployed for two years or longer find jobs. Companies would receive tax cuts when hiring these individuals, so this could have an adverse effect on newly-graduated college students seeking employment as many of those hiring might select employees who would qualify them to receive these cuts.

Still, as interviews by News 10 in Albany, New York showed, college students felt a bit more confident after hearing Obama's speech. Some felt the president's plan could create opportunities that might not have otherwise been available. Others remained cautiously hopeful, still expecting to face a 'dismal' job market and a period of unemployment after earning their degrees.

Unemployment to Take One on the Chin

The real thrust of Obama's new bill is to create more jobs (or at least in some cases to stop the loss of existing ones), which is really the only solution job-seekers are looking for. Construction workers, teachers, engineers, police officers, firefighters, veterans and the long-term unemployed would be most affected if the bill gets passed and is executed in the way Obama laid it out to Congress.

Bridges need repair. Buildings need to be erected. Schools need facelifts. Roads need maintenance. Laid-off teachers need to return to the classroom. Cops and firefighters need to be reinstated, or new jobs in these areas created. Obama's plan calls for $130 billion in federal aid to states that would help where budgets have been cut, leading to lay-offs and postponed or delayed construction projects.

Is it enough? Obama himself admitted that he doesn't 'pretend that this plan will solve all our problems. . .nor will it be the last plan of action we propose.' But it will likely take putting the plan into effect to see if it works or not. And now, as the president urged, both parties must come together to make it happen.

Many Questions to Answer

Basically, while Obama's speech reflected much hope and optimism, many felt it lacked details. Unemployed individuals interviewed by PBS News Hour after the speech raised questions such as, 'How does a business make a decision to hire and expand' in the face of an unstable economy? Are there incentives for companies to stop outsourcing to other countries and return jobs to the United States? If companies might pay for workers to gain an education at community colleges, what of those workers who wish to attend 4-year universities? What about jobs in the public sector, for which tax credits don't mean as much as to the private sector?

Any proposed legislation will of course invite questions, in most cases lots of them. Only time will tell if the American Jobs Act is something that can be a promising solution for both ends of the spectrum: those in college who face an uncertain future, and those who have been out of work for a long period of time and need a huge boost to the economy to give them the chance to find employment again.

Find out how education is affected by Congress' recent debt ceiling deal.

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