The jobs we’ve been shedding by the millions are solid, middle-class positions — the kind that could support a family and send children to college. The hard reality is that the relatively few jobs being created are service-related — disproportionately low-wage and low-skill. The broad middle class — the triumph and strength of America’s democracy — is sinking. Unless we change course dramatically, we will become even more a nation of haves and have-nots.

The current debate offers clear contrast. Right now, Obama wants to “jolt” a flagging economy, investing in teachers and infrastructure and cutting taxes on workers and small businesses. Over 10 years, he’d get our books in order by combining spending savings — largely on wars abroad and on Medicare, Medicaid and tax hikes on the wealthy.

Republicans scorn the American Jobs Act but may sign onto extending the payroll tax cut. They push for rolling back regulation, keeping taxes low and passing corporate trade accords. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) just reiterated their staunch opposition to any tax hikes on the wealthy and their demand that deficit reduction focus on cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The differences are stark — so the choice is likely to be left to voters in the 2012 elections.

And jobs are a calamity. We have fewer payroll jobs now than we did in 2000, but we’ve added 30 million to our population since then. Twenty-five million people are in need of full-time work. We’ve lost about 10 percent of middle-class jobs since 2000.

And the jobs coming back are disproportionately low-wage and low-skill. Nearly 20 percent of working adults have jobs that do not pay enough to lift a family of four out of poverty. Median wages for men ages 30 to 50 have declined by nearly 30 percent since 1969. American companies are still shipping good jobs abroad, while we borrow more than $1 billion a day from foreigners to cover our trade deficit.

This economy is not like a new car with a depleted battery, needing only a jolt to be humming again. It’s an old jalopy with a spent transmission and a broken chassis. We either rebuild it or trade it in.

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