Obama And McCain On Job Creation

To help you make an informed decision in the presidential election, CBS News is devoting a large part of our broadcasts until Nov. 4 to telling you where the candidates stand on major issues - from the war in Iraq to health insurance to education … and a lot more. Each piece will be an in-depth look at the issues facing the 44th president. In this installment, CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports on how the proposed job creation policies of Barack Obama and John McCain would affect you and your community.

The Issue

Like a lot of guys with a finance career, Peter Halpern was watching the economy and worrying about supporting his wife, Eva, and daughter, Katrina.

To deal with the heat and pressure, Halpern turned … to heat and pressure.

"When the sparks are flying, and the tools are grinding, and you hear the noise," he said. "I love it."

After years in the white-collar world, Halpern is becoming a welder.

"Most of the time, the people I've worked with - our friends have kind of gone, 'huh? You're doing - hold on a second!'" he said.

Unemployed after folding his own investment company, Halpern is now part of a worker-training program in Pinellas County, Fla. And he's not alone.

"We're getting guys from 18 years old to 45 years old," said Lee Middleton, Halpern's welding instructor.

In Florida, three nuclear power plants are currently operating, requiring hundreds of precision welders for maintenance. Two more are in the works.

"All the baby boomers are retiring, and there is nobody to replace them. Now all these people are realizing this and they're coming for the money and the benefits - and the future," Middleton said.

These guys have done the math, and they like the numbers they're seeing.

Graduates leave there in starting jobs that pay close to $30 an hour. That's $60,000 a year base - six figures easy with overtime.

Maybe that's why there's a waiting list there with more than 400 names on it.

"Can you make close to the same amount in welding as you did in finance?" Axelrod asked.

"Oh yeah," Halpern said.

So Halpern, who knows something about life-changing decisions, having enlisted in the Army on 9/11, is changing the color of his collar, because it feels like the safest and most secure thing to do.

"This is my office, that's how I look at it," Halpern said in the welding studio.

"And how do you like your new office?" Axelrod asked.

"I like my office. You know, it doesn't have a window anymore, but I can live with that," he said.

Axelrod and his CBS Evening News crew came to Tampa to talk jobs, because Florida has lost more jobs in the past year than any other state. Tampa has been hit especially hard - and it's full of the swing and independent voters both candidates have been courting heavily - the bloc of voters that may very well decide this election.

The Candidates

"Small businesses provide 16 million jobs in America and Americans know that raising taxes on small business will kill those jobs," Sen. John McCain said in a rally earlier this month.

McCain's plans to create more jobs start with taxes. He's pledged to keep taxes on small businesses capped at 35 percent, and cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. The idea is to free up cash and expand payrolls.

In a Pennsylvania rally, McCain said: "In this economy, raising taxes is the surest way to turn a recession into a depression."

But Sen. Barack Obama also proposes tax relief for small businesses, so they have money to grow. He says he'll end tax breaks for larger companies that send jobs overseas - and he'll offer a $3,000 tax credit for each full-time job a business creates - through 2010.

Obama's linked job creation to ending the Iraq war. He wants to take what's now spent in Iraq - $10 billion a month - and use it to rebuild our crumbling national infrastructure instead, creating 2 million new jobs fixing roads and bridges.

"We've gotta create the jobs of the future by transforming our energy economy," Obama said in Colorado.

But the centerpiece of his job-creation policy is a call to spend $150 billion on clean energy over the next 10 years - creating 5 million more jobs in the process.

Energy would be a huge source of jobs, according to McCain, as well. He's proposing 45 new nuclear power plants to be built by 2030 nationwide - that's 700,000 new jobs, he says.

"Nuclear power is the most dependable source of zero-emission energy we have," McCain said.

And Obama said in Reno, Nevada: "We can't wait to educate the next generation of Americans with the skills and knowledge they need to compete with any workers, anywhere in the world."

For worker re-training, Obama would expand apprenticeship programs, and offer flexible education accounts for displaced workers. McCain wants to reform unemployment insurance to focus on re-training, emphasizing community colleges and technical training centers.

The Impact

McCain is referring to places just like the one at the Union Hall near Tampa, where Peter Halpern is learning to weld.

"Yeah, the hands are little dirtier and a little more ate up than they used to be," Halpern said.

Axelrod said: "This is not what it looked like coming home from a day at the office when you were in finance."

"No, they were a little more manicured then," he said.

The economic downturn may mean both candidates need to re-consider their job-creation plans.

But for now, both offer something for Halpern. He could directly benefit from McCain's calls for nuclear power plants - as well as Obama's plans to fix our infrastructure. But this undecided voter won't make his choice based on who's got the better "jobs" plan.

"My position was to look at things from a 10-, 15-, 20-year position, and when we're looking at a president we're only looking at a four-year position," Halpern said.

"So there's nothing one of these two guys is going to say on job creation, or job training that's going to sway you one way or other in terms of voting for one of the other?" Axelrod asked.

"No," Halpern said.

He's more concerned with fixing America's reputation abroad. As far as getting a job - Peter Halpern figures he's good to go - no matter who's elected.

Read more on the issue at Couric & Co. Blog.
Check out Where They Stand on other issues.
And if you think he's happy, try his wife.

"He's not quite aware of it yet, but I already have quite a few projects around the house and in the yard," his wife, Eva, said.

"For him to weld?" Axelrod asked.

"Absolutely," she said.

So he gets to use his newly acquired skills. Turns out there's a price for his newfound security after all.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.