For a while now, there has been this surreal sense about the local, state and national political discussion. While Americans were losing jobs and houses at an alarming rate, all the political talk was focused on everything but, like health care and carbon taxes.

Suddenly, however, it seems everyone from the White House down is talking about jobs and how to create them. What took them so long?

An alarming graph that every California politician should see was part of a recent North Bay talk by Forbes economics columnist Joel Kotkin. It showed California unemployment rising to 14.4 percent in the first quarter of 2010 and remaining above 12 percent into 2011.

California unemployment in October was at its highest level in 70 years at 12.5 percent. Unemployment of more than 14 percent could be catastrophic.

Across the nation, 10.2 percent of workers are unemployed. Many experts say unemployment is 17.5 percent if you include those who are underemployed or stopped looking for work altogether.

The impacts of long-term unemployment faced by this increasing percentage of workers could be felt for years if not decades.

The longer people are out of the work force, the less likely they are to be updating their skills in a way that makes them employable. Cuts to education are only compounding the damage.

Any jobs created by stimulus spending are only a short-term fix.

Programs like the wildly successful Sonoma County Energy Independence Program that supports residential and commercial energy improvements are helping.

But the private sector, on which government ultimately is reliant for its revenues, is unlikely to begin hiring on any scale until it can justify the cost. Right now, most can't. And the fact that nothing but higher taxes and new regulation are on the horizon isn't helping.

There is little mystery to encouraging job growth: lower taxes on risk, incentives to purchase equipment, investments in infrastructure, less regulatory burden and improving education, to name a few.

The hopes of millions are riding on an answer -- and the sooner the better.

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Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bollinger@busjrnl.com.