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There's no 'magic wand' for jobs

By John D. Sutter, CNN
February 15, 2013 -- Updated 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)
Even Harry Potter can't wave a wand and create new jobs.
Even Harry Potter can't wave a wand and create new jobs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Commenter: "You think the President just waves his magic wand and jobs are created?"
  • John Sutter: Congress, the president and all of us can help
  • Sutter: The long-term unemployed encounter widespread discrimination
  • Commenter: "You do whatever you have to to get work"

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion. He heads the section's Change the List project, which focuses on human rights and social justice. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com.

(CNN) -- Here's one from the obvious file: There's no "magic wand" that -- poof! -- creates jobs in the United States, or anywhere else.

In response to my column this week on long-term unemployment, some of you commented that the president doesn't have superpowers to create jobs for the rest of us. Or you pointed out that he should be part in the process -- but job-creation is actually something Congress or business leaders should take on instead.

I thought those were great points.

Here's my favorite comment -- mostly because it uses the term "pea brain" (and yes, it's in reference to me, but you've gotta love a nerdy insult, especially when it includes a vegetable):

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

"Are you so stupid that you think the President just waves his magic wand and jobs are created? Let me give you a lesson in government Sutter. Maybe your pathetic conservative pea brain will be able to grasp one fact: The President proposes and Congress legislates. So it is the Republican Congress that is keeping that poor woman unemployed. They have done nothing to aleviate (sic) her plight ..."

The "poor woman" the commenter, who used the screen name "tom sellier," referenced is Kim Peters, an unemployed mom who invited me into her home Tuesday to watch the State of the Union. Overall, Peters, who has been unemployed on and off for five years, didn't take much comfort from the speech. She's more worried about keeping a roof over her head.

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Some of the most cutting things Peters had to say focused on House Speaker John Boehner, whose apparent indifference toward the State of the Union -- scowling, licking his lips, looking very "get me outta here" -- made her angry. Her point of view, and I think there is some merit to this, is that President Obama wants to promote infrastructure projects and other "stimulus" efforts that would create jobs, but Republicans are so focused on the deficit they won't consider spending money on that.

She wasn't thrilled with everything Obama said either.

Drafting public policy that will create jobs and put people back to work is a tricky thing. That's part of the reason I argued the first and easiest thing we all can do to help the long-term unemployed is to treat them as equal humans.

Currently, they're some of the most maligned people in our society.

Companies put out ads saying they only will consider employed candidates. Recruiters toss their resumes before taking a look. Generally, I think the national sentiment is that unemployed people must have done something wrong to end up jobless.

As a person who's been laid off before, I can tell you that's not always the case. It's unfair to give unemployed people less of a chance at getting back on their feet. If anything, I think they deserve more consideration. It's the fair thing to do.

Other readers said getting a job is an individual's responsibility.

"I've been unemployed and it sucks . . . BUT you do whatever you have to to get work you dig ditches, you wash dishes, empty trash, you may even have to move your home," wrote mikemc58. "Point is you have to think outside the box and get out of your comfort zone. Wishes and dreams aren't going to do it. Get off your butt hit the streets everyday asking, looking, volunteering, for a job. And listening to Obama drone on about how good the economy is useless, because as we all know, 'we' who live in the REAL world know it's NOT. GOV is not the answer, personal responsibility and self motivation is the key to finding new work."

That's another fair point, although I think individual effort only goes so far when there are 3.4 unemployed workers for every job opening in the United States in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it's important to empathize with people who become stuck in a cycle of hopelessness and depression the longer their unemployment continues. That's not an easy cycle to break.

One more thing to bring up about the comments: While many of you wrote in to ask how you can help long-term unemployed people get back on their feet, several of you attacked Peters -- criticizing her ownership of a TV, saying she shouldn't have cable if she doesn't have a job (she actually doesn't have cable, but that's beside the point) and speculating about what type of cell phone she uses.

What silliness, right? And it speaks to the underlying problem here: We're inclined to attack unemployed people -- to judge their financial situations and to speculate about what might have put them out of work. That's unhelpful. And discriminatory.

Peters, the woman I featured, told me that ending ignorance will help end unemployment. Government and business leaders must help, too. But I think she's right: a simple shift in attitude -- trading ignorance for empathy -- can and will make a huge difference.

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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

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