Richard Stengel: We Need a Jobs Czar

This year, Americans' ability to find work will test Washington like never before. Our new monthly coverage follows the effort

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David Leventi for TIME

For the next two years, jobs are job No. 1. For everyone. Though economists will tell you that jobs are a lagging indicator even in a growing economy, for Americans of all stripes, including the political class in Washington, they are a leading one. The fates of both the Obama Administration and the new GOP class will be linked to job growth. There is a limit to what the federal government can do to create jobs, but there is one job the Obama Administration ought to create right now: a jobs czar — someone to be the President's point person for the next few years in helping to stimulate job growth.

This is our kickoff cover story of the year, and it is on an issue we consider so important that it launches a yearlong focus on employment called Where the Jobs Are. Every month, we'll do a story on which industries are growing, which cities are creating the most jobs, where new opportunities are arising. We'll couple our coverage with town-hall meetings at which our writers and editors and outside experts will discuss the economy. We'd love to hear from you as well, so tell us what opportunities you are seeing or want us to write about.

Our cover story this week, by assistant managing editor Bill Saporito, our chief business writer, looks at where the emerging bright spots are — and why this recession has been different. At the same time, historian and hedge-fund manager Zachary Karabell identifies deep structural shifts in our economy that suggest that even what we used to call full employment will be hard to achieve. The whole package was edited by our new business and economics editor — our own jobs czar — Rana Foroohar, who also wrote this week's Curious Capitalist column, on capital shortages.

This week's issue also includes a remarkable package on Afghanistan. Joe Klein was there last month, in the Zhari district, and he has written a clear-eyed analysis of where we are headed in Afghanistan and what is likely to happen over the next two years. Joe has also written a kind of valedictory to our great mutual friend Richard Holbrooke, whose vision for that area of the world is worth heeding. Along with Joe's story are extraordinary photographs by the great Jim Nachtwey, including one of an American Marine holding a wounded Afghan child that will become an iconic image of the war. In mid-December, Jim embedded with a medevac unit in southern Afghanistan, where he captured not only the terrible cost of that war but also the heroism of the men and women fighting it. "The essence of [the medics'] missions is saving lives," he says. "The majority of calls were from Afghans hurt in everyday accidents. It underlines the paradox of this and any war. Innocent people do get caught in the cross fire."