The Obama team resists a pro-growth tax and regulation agenda that business leaders insist would give them the confidence to invest their growing profits in an expanded U.S. workforce. But that’s just part of the problem. In any conversation about getting Americans back to work, there are hard — and often politically unpalatable — truths that leaders from both parties first need to face about the state of the nation’s bruised and battered workforce:

• Getting the unemployed re-employed isn’t just about economic growth. There are now 6.2 million Americans (more than 44% of the unemployed) who have been out of work for more than a year — and are dead last on any list of employers seeking to fill positions. These are people whose skills have rusted in a fast-paced global economy, along with twentysomethings who haven’t even developed the habit of work. We risk losing a generation of men and women who won’t be able find meaningful employment ever again.

• This isn’t 1982, when unemployment topped out at 10.8% — a bit higher than the Great Recession’s October 2009 peak. There is no “Morning in America” on the horizon. All signs point to a continued struggle for people who don’t have jobs for long periods of time — leaving a deeper, more indelible mark on our nation’s psyche. Recent studies show that U.S. companies will actually face a talent shortage in 10 years, even as growing numbers of teens drop out of school and millions of once-talented adults fall idle.

Does that mean that we, as a society, have given up on millions of valuable Americans? Is that a question any political leader wants to answer?

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