The tight race between Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren has become the most expensive election in Massachusetts history. As dollars continue to pour into the battle, it's issues that are more likely to decide the race. And many voters say the biggest issue is jobs.
But truth be told, in many ways, the issue of job creation is a non-issue.
"The ability of an elected official to make job growth happen is overstated," said Michael Goodman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He says there’s not a lot politicians can do — at least in the short term — to encourage more hiring.
"Elected officials get far too much of the blame, and far too much of the credit during good times, for economic conditions," Goodman said.
Case in point? Just last week Congress had Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stop by. He wasn’t there to hear what senators were doing to create jobs. They wanted to know what he was doing to create jobs.
"The ability of an elected official to make job growth happen is overstated."Michael Goodman, economist
"We are looking for ways to address the weakness in the economy," Bernanke told Congress, "should more action be needed to promote a sustained recovery in the labor market."
Even so, both U.S. candidates from Massachusetts have jobs plans. And in some ways they’re similar. Brown and Warren both say they would reduce regulation of small businesses. Both oppose the tax on the medical device companies. And both say they want to invest in education and infrastructure.
That long-term investment is important, according to economist Goodman.
"It’s the efforts that are made at the national level to make a more competitive United States, in terms of infrastructure, skilled workforce and technology, that have had the biggest bang for the buck and the biggest impact on prosperity and job growth in the United States," Goodman said.
The problem is, those efforts pay out long term. They won’t make local business owners such as Glynn Lloyd hire more people overnight. Lloyd is the CEO of City Fresh Foods in Roxbury.
"The product comes in raw, we cook it up, package it up," Lloyd said, surveying workers cleaning up from the day's shift. "We ship out nice, fresh, hot meals to school-age kids, child care, elderly."
Lloyd employs 85 people and would like to employ more. He likes that Brown pushed a crowdfunding law that could make it easier for him to raise money from average citizens.
"It’s so easy for capital to flow to Wall Street," Lloyd said. "We need to make it easier for capital to flow more easily to Main Street. And these are the folks who are actually employing people."
Lloyd thinks Warren’s budget plan is better for jobs. She would keep more workers employed in the public sector for now. Plus, much of Lloyd’s business comes from the federal dollars — including the school lunch program.
"We need to keep that [fiscal spending] mode going, from my perspective," Lloyd said.
Another food company CEO warned against politicians focusing on short-term policy in the name of jobs.
"You know, politicians don’t create jobs, private industry does," said Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera. The food chain employs 100 people at its offices in Needham. Nationally, Shaich says the company and its franchisees are hiring as many 25,000 people this year alone.
"Our decisions are not made in reaction to government policy," Shaich said. "All these tax breaks, all these tax credits, all these incentives for social policy — that’s not how we make our decisions. We make our decisions on whether the company’s growing and whether we need people."
And in the end, whether a company needs people depends on the bigger economic picture. Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter said today's enduring high unemployment rates were in the works for a long time.
"Our job creation stopped way before the deep recession," Porter told MSNBC last week. "Our participation in the workforce is at a 30-year low. We’re stagnant in terms of wages. We’re stagnant in terms of wealth creation."
Porter says Congress needs to fix long-term problems to keep America competitive. In the short-term, he said, compromise on a budget is necessary so that businesses have some certainty.
"If we actually had a glimmer of progress," Porter said, "just the simple act of doing something and moving forward would be transformational for our economy."
In other words, the best thing any U.S. senator from Massachusetts can do in Washington to create jobs is to do their job.
From The Campaigns:
This program aired on July 26, 2012.