Job one: More workers

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
Much of the recent economic news has been fairly grim. Rating agencies downgraded our nation's credit score — and the value of some of the industry's top chains.

Meanwhile, the government wants to gut Medicare payments by more than 11% starting next month. But if there's a sleeper issue that should give us even more concern, it is this: The nursing home sector lost 500 jobs in July.

Before you dash off a note reminding me to put away my crack pipe, please hear me out.

The loss of 500 jobs might not sound like a big deal, but there are two reasons why it should be a legitimate cause for concern.

The first is that this sector can ill-afford to lose one job, much less 500. Chronic worker shortages are so common in this field that they are practically a given. Turnover rates are routinely in the double digits for managers, and approach 100% for front-line employees in some markets.

This is the ultimate leaky bucket business, at least as far as finding and keeping qualified employees is concerned. If there is one sector that is in no position to be losing workers, long-term care is it. And all indications are that the need for caregivers will only intensify.

But beyond the concerns of our little corner of the economy, there is a second reason why these job losses are alarming: Our country needs to get more people working.

The Great Recession killed off 7.9 million jobs, according to a federal report released in August. So while we recently gained back about 600,000 jobs, there's still a balance of about 7.3 million lost.

Our political leaders have spent the past few months bickering over whether we should raise the debt ceiling in order to pay for previously-approved obligations. The best that can be said for that dubious exercise is that it was counterproductive.

I'm not saying we don't need to get more responsible with the way we spend money. Far from it. But ladies and gentlemen, we have a serious problem on our hands. Imagine if you hobbled into a treatment center with a broken leg, and the doctor wanted to treat your high blood pressure first? That doctor's name would be Congress.

If we want to make our economy healthy again, we need to get more people working. It really is that simple. And that difficult.