...Another month, another half-million Americans out of work. The ranks of the unemployed have now stretched beyond 11 million, and millions more are underemployed — working part time, for example, because they can’t find full-time jobs.
As bad as this sounds, the reality confronting working men and women is actually significantly worse. Some 2.6 million jobs have been lost since December 2007, and as the Economic Policy Institute tells us:
“Just to keep up with the ever-expanding labor force, the economy would have needed to create 1.5 million jobs over the last 12 months. This means that the 2.6 million jobs lost leaves us over 4 million jobs short of what the economy required to provide employment for the American work force.”
We’re in employment quicksand. The official unemployment rate (a notoriously rosy statistic) is 7.2 percent. But more than one in every eight workers in America is jobless or underemployed. That’s 21 million people. And it’s not even counting the so-called discouraged workers, who have given up looking for a job.
More than a million jobs were lost in November and December, and millions more are projected to vanish this year. When the November job losses were announced, David Leonhardt wrote in The Times’s blog, Economix:
“The share of all men ages 16 and over who are working is now at its lowest level since the government began keeping statistics in the 1940s. The share of women with jobs has fallen almost two percentage points from the peak it reached in 2000. At no other point in the past 50 years has the share of employed women fallen so much from its peak.”
This is an emergency. There is one overriding mission for the incoming Obama administration when it comes to dealing with the economy, and that’s putting Americans back to work. Forget the G.O.P.’s mania for tax cuts. Forget, for the time being (but not forever), the ballooning budget deficits. Forget the feel-good but doomed-to-fail effort to play nice-nice with the rabid partisans of the right who were the ones most responsible for ruining the economy in the first place.
Put the people back to work!
To do that, Democrats will have to overcome their natural timidity. They will have to fend off the Republican opposition in Congress and set in motion an enormous surge of public spending aimed at creating jobs, jobs, jobs.
Each new surge of job losses is an additional violent assault on the already profoundly damaged economy. Idle workers do not pay taxes and that ratchets up budget deficits at the federal, state and local levels. They draw down unemployment benefits and further strain the Medicaid rolls. In many cases, they are forced to turn to food stamps for their families’ daily bread. And, of course, they stop purchasing cars and homes, goods and services.
The economy will not be saved by putting a pitiful $500 into the hands of the average taxpayer. And it won’t be saved by gift-wrapped concessions to the G.O.P. in the form of business tax cuts that the president-elect is said to be considering.
With credit tight, savings depleted, the stock market in the tank and home prices in a state of collapse, the only way to get real money into the hands of ordinary Americans (and thus back into the economy) is through employment. The way to truly stimulate the economy and save the jobs of anxiety-ridden workers who are still employed is to get the unemployed back to work as soon as possible.
And the way to create jobs is through infrastructure investments (building and repairing roads, bridges, tunnels and water and sewer systems); and by investing in 21st-century clean energy initiatives, in public transportation systems, and in school construction; and by providing access to health care for the millions who don’t have it.
In other words, by investing in the people and the enormous productive capacity of the United States.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa was blunt this week after he and other Senate Democrats met with Obama aides to discuss the president-elect’s stimulus package. “There is only one thing we have got to do in the stimulus, and that is how can we create jobs,” he said.
Referring to Mr. Obama’s national economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, Mr. Harkin added: “I am a little concerned by the way that Mr. Summers and others are going at this in that, to me, it still looks like a little more of this trickle down. If we just put it in at the top, it’s going to trickle down.”
Been there. Done that. Didn’t work.
The madness of trickle down and its corollaries ruined the economy and millions of Americans with it. President-elect Obama ran to the mantra of change. One hopes he is not too timid to deliver.
One also hopes that the Oborg Collective doesn't decide that employment federally bankrolled by his volunteer civilian jobs corp is just not bipartisan enough.
Like Herbert says, Americans need jobs to work at paying their bills. Buying food. Buying shelter. It's great to do volunteer work for free, but you don't exactly volunteer to build bridges or roads or plant a million trees or develop alternative energy sources. That requires money and not just for payrolls but infrastructure investment.
You know, the kind of things the Republicans- and Obama's own personal political bankrollers on Wall Street- just plain hate since they can't make a buck off them.
There is a strategery that certainly does seem to fit the bipartisan bill: mandatory national service for everyone under 25. Or 30. Or 45. A "non-draft", because as Darth Rahm says, "Freedom isn't free".
This would come with an option for the military to engage in a little selective service skimming off the top, too, since the Pentagon- and Obama's own personal political bankroll and brand new Ba$e- thinks there are all of these jobs for Team Amerika World Police to take care of.