But, although the health of the economy and state of the job market rank consistently as Americans' top concerns in polls, Washington's attention to the question of how to improve job creation has ebbed and flowed.
Several factors explain the recent resurgence, and most of them are not too difficult to guess:
• The election campaign for 2012 is ramping up. Candidates including the current occupant of the White House are feeling the strong incentive to focus on what matters to voters. The latter group includes lots of people without jobs, people who worry they could lose their job, and people who know their own finances would be helped by a stronger, job-growing economy.
• Labor Day is coming this weekend. It's an event that doesn't always factor into the nation's policy calculus. But with the weak economy, the holiday and the end of summer vacations provide a calendar prompt for job ideas to surface right around now.
• The economy is crying for help. Yes, unemployment has been a persistent problem for several years, but the sense of economic emergency arguably is higher now than at any time since the spring of 2009, when the Federal Reserve and Treasury were still wielding financial-crisis fire extinquishers. Economists in recent weeks shifted toward a heightened concern about the possibility of a new recession, and a flight to safety in financial markets has buoyed gold and US Treasury bonds. And this week a widely watched index of consumer confidence hit a two-year low.
• Jobs have cycled higher relative to other priorities. The flow of Washington imperatives since the financial crisis has sometimes seen jobs get eclipsed. In 2009 Mr. Obama pivoted for months toward health-care reform. This year Republicans have kept the spotlight on their goal of curbing federal spending and deficits. Having signed a Budget Control Act last month, based on a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal, Obama is eager to put the focus back on jobs.
If Obama can win Republican support for some policies that help the economy, that could help lift sagging approval ratings and bolster his reelection chances. If Republicans oppose his proposals, Obama can at least make that a campaign talking point, casting Republicans as obstructionists or obsessed soley with spending cuts.
For Republican rivals who hope to unseat Obama, unveiling policies aimed at employment gives them a chance to contrast themselves with what they argue has been a presidency of economic failures. Where Obama has emphasized efforts at temporary stimulus (a $787 billion Recovery Act, payroll-tax breaks, and more), Mr. Huntsman's plan, for example, focuses on a proposed permanent streamlining of the tax code and reducing regulatory burdens.
In fairness to Obama, he and other Democrats might embrace permanent tax reforms as well.