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Car Czar’s Memo to Obama: Focus Less on Manufacturing, More on High-End Services

As the Presidential race of 2012 heats up and the U.S. unemployment rate remains staggeringly high, most discussions in Washington and on the Campaign trail have to do with jobs.

For example, just yesterday President Obama brought the debt ceiling and budget negotiations back to the issue of jobs and the economy in his first press conference since March. "I want everybody to understand that this is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction," he said. "If the United States government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills - if it defaults - then the consequences for the U.S. economy will be significant and unpredictable. And that is not a good thing."

To add fuel to the jobs fire, initial jobless claims for last week totaled 428,000, which is 8,000 more than expected. This marks the 12th-consecutive week that applications have hung above 400,000 and is indicative of the weakness in the job market that has persisted since the beginning of the year. (Note: The more critical headline monthly jobs number comes out next Friday, July 8, after the long July 4th weekend.)

The White House has made considerable efforts to talk about chronic joblessness and even proposed a $500 million new initiative last week that aims to bolster job growth in the advanced manufacturing sector. Staying on message, the President visited an Alcoa plant in Iowa this week. (See: Obama Needs to "Get Tough" and "Ruthless" on Jobs and Trade Policy, Says Tonelson)

Creating more U.S. manufacturing jobs has been at the forefront of Obama's jobs agenda since he proposed to generate 2 million jobs by doubling exports by 2015 in his State of the Union address this year. But Steven Rattner, former special advisor to the President on the auto industry, says Obama may be pushing on a string.

"Stimulating more manufacturing jobs is a tough assignment….We are a developed country [and] we are competing against countries that are emerging," he tells Aaron and Dan in the accompanying interview. "Our share of manufacturing as a percent of our economy, the number of jobs, has more or less been going steadily down for 40-50 years. It's normal. It's what happens when economies develop."

At that Iowa event, Obama touted his administration's role in creating 2 million manufacturing jobs in the last year and a half, but acknowledged the need to do much more.

"For a lot of Americans, those numbers don't matter much if they're still out of work, or if they have a job that doesn't pay enough to make the mortgage or pay the bills," Obama said. "So we've got more work to do...the problems that we developed didn't happen overnight. We're not going to solve them overnight either. But we will solve them."

While not trying to "belittle" the importance of manufacturing, Ratter says the focus should be on industries that the U.S. can be most competitive in such as finance, entertainment, new media [and] digital media. "People equate manufacturing with high-paying jobs and they equate service businesses with low-paying jobs and that is not always the case," says Rattner.

Tell us what you think and watch the interview for Rattner's take on how the politics of bailouts will effect the 2012 Presidential election!

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