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US task: Put jobless into jobs

With biggest job losses since 1974, Obama plans massive public works.

Laid off: Mike Burns, here doing work in his yard, lost his Silicon Valley machine-shop job five months ago.

Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor

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Needed: a job plan.

Suddenly beset by the worst monthly layoffs since 1974, Americans are starting to struggle with how to find employment for the millions who are losing jobs in the recession.

Should government spend billions on retraining programs, create tax incentives for businesses that hire new workers, fund green infrastructure projects, or just provide massive Depression-era make-work programs?

The answers to those questions will involve a key issue: whether the unemployed will have the right skills and be in the right location to take advantage of new jobs.

President-elect Obama has described the outlines of a recovery plan that would create more than 2 million jobs. On Saturday, in a weekly radio address, he cited plans to upgrade roads and schools as part of what would be the biggest infrastructure investment since the 1950s.

Mr. Obama's comments follow the Labor Department's report last Friday that the United States lost 533,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent in November. Over the past three months, job losses have totaled 1.2 million, a statistic that implies that a sharp contraction of the economy is under way.

"These numbers basically provide support for Obama to have a program in place in January," says John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia Economics Group in Charlotte, N.C.

The size of the November layoffs shocked economists. The layoffs spread to almost every sector – from manufacturing to services, which accounted for 70 percent of the layoffs.

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