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Deficits, joblessness, and the economic 'ifs'

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The economic report of the President released Wednesday projects six years of sustained, noninflationary economic growth ahead - if deficits are reduced, monetary policy is sound, and protectionism is controlled.

But the report, which outlines the economic assumptions behind the President's budget, does more than offer a relatively rosy view of the economic future. It also underscores how sharp the debate on reducing joblessness is likely to become.

''Unemployment is the most serious economic problem now facing the United States,'' the report admits.

Although his advisers predict unemployment will average 10.7 percent in 1983, 9.9 percent in 1984, and 8.9 percent in 1985, President Reagan continues to argue against the massive job-creating programs that are now gaining momentum in Congress.

Jobs bills ''only shift unemployment from one industry to another at the cost of increasing the federal budget deficit,'' the President says. And the administration contends that massive budget deficits pose a key threat to the real economic growth - averaging 4 percent a year - which it predicts.

A major job-creating effort might signal financial markets ''that Congress is not willing'' to hold the line on budget deficits and ''will have the effect of raising (interest) rates and hurting the recovery,'' contends Martin Feldstein, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

Instead the administration favors more limited efforts aimed at groups that will face high unemployment rates even after the recovery takes hold. For example, it is proposing tax credits for companies that hire the long-term unemployed and a seasonal subminimum wage for youths. Overall, it wants to spend from the current year.

Mr. Reagan's basic position is that ''only a balanced and lasting recovery can achieve a substantial reduction in unemployment.''

The President's stance is in sharp contrast to an agreement Democratic congressional leaders reached Tuesday to push for a multifaceted jobs and economic assistance package costing between $5 billion and $7 billion. The program would create public-service jobs and provide food and shelter for the poor.

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