Civil rights activist
Some 300,000 teachers face layoffs this coming year. Congress hasn’t even had a vote on legislation that would keep them employed. Teenage employment was at record lows last year — when the stimulus bill funded some summer jobs. It is June, the school year is ending, and a $1.4 billion bill to provide 500,000 jobs for the summer hasn’t gotten a vote. More than 24 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and the economy barely produced any private-sector jobs last month. And yet, the bill by California Democrat George Miller to put people to work can’t get a vote in the House.
What is Washington thinking? Losing a job is a human calamity. Families buckle under the pressure. Divorce, spousal abuse, child neglect soar. Homelessness increases along with malnutrition. Crime, drug addiction, depression, rising rates of suicide follow. Skilled workers lose their skills. Our society becomes more unequal, and far more brittle, as middle-class families descend into destitution. Our 10 percent unemployment is a national emergency, not an acceptable condition.
The situation is dire. Youth unemployment is at its highest levels since the Labor Department started tracking figures in 1948. One in six blue-collar workers has lost his or her job in the downturn. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. And 120,000 are filing for bankruptcy every month.
Yet Congress doesn’t act. Republicans, with virtual unanimity, oppose jobs programs as part of an ”out-of-control spending spree.” But they also oppose paying for jobs by ending the tax break for hedge-fund millionaires that has them paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. They oppose allowing Medicare to save hundreds of billions by negotiating bulk discounts on prescription drugs.
Blue-dog Democrats don’t want to do anything without ”paying for it.” This didn’t seem to be a factor when they voted to bail out the banks, or when they voted another $60 billion for the war in Afghanistan. It doesn’t restrain the Federal Reserve from transferring trillions to private financial institutions without even a vote of Congress. The pledge to make jobs ”issue No. 1” this year has yet to translate into action.
Pundits warn that our deficits, slated to be more than $1 trillion this year, will turn us into Greece and move us to the edge of default. But the reality is that America is still the safe harbor. The euro is sinking as worried investors take their money to the U.S. Our deficits are high, but the demand for our bonds is higher.
It is time to put people to work. States and localities are cutting teachers and police and firefighters in the face of $360 billion in projected deficits in 2010 and 2011. Sending money to the states to forestall those layoffs will sustain good jobs and vital services. Spending money on summer jobs for teenagers is a no-brainer. Creating urban and rural corps — or green corps to clean our cities or to clean the oil off the Gulf Coast — simply makes sense.
And at the same time, we should push hard now to finance work that must be done. Our roads, bridges, mass transit, sewers and clean-water facilities are literally falling apart.
Instead, we seem to be lurching back to the same trickle-down economics that has proved so disastrous in the past. Bail out the banks and watch them capture 30 percent of all corporate profits and rising. Slash vital services from schoolteachers to public health facilities. Sit back as jobs are shipped abroad, and our trade deficit is back to more than $1 billion a day and rising. Let bankers pay themselves million-dollar bonuses, and do little as another 3 million families lose their homes to foreclosure this year.
Thirty years of trickle-down economics led this economy over the cliff. It left this country more unequal, with working Americans less secure and more indebted. We can’t go back to that old economy. Nor can we accept a new economy in which the inequalities are worse, the unemployment and poverty greater, the misery wider. We’re still a staggering 7.8 million jobs short of where we were when the Great Recession began. It is time for action on jobs.