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We Are Living In The Conservative Recovery, And It’s Pretty Terrible

In talking about the economy, the Republican presidential candidates are quick to blame government spending for our current woes. “On my first day in office, I will send five bills to Congress and issue five executive orders that will get government out of the way and restore America to the path of robust economic growth that we need to create jobs,” said former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney when he unveiled his jobs plan in September. Likewise, in his plan, Texas Governor Rick Perry touts spending cuts as part of the road toward renewed economic growth: “The cut, balance, and grow plan paves the way for the job creation, balanced budgets, and fiscal responsibility that we need to get America working again.”

The problem, as Neil Irwin reports for The Washington Post, is that sharp cuts to government have been terrible for the recovery. Thanks to lower revenue, limited federal aid, and budget-cutting state legislators, the public sector has cut 455,000 jobs since the beginning of 2010, sending the proportion of government jobs to 16.7 percent, the lowest level in three years. These cuts have been a huge drag on the recovery -– to wit, October saw private-sector job growth of 104,000, which was offset by the loss of 24,000 public-sector jobs, for a net increase of 80,000 jobs. This dynamic has been true of every month since the recovery officially began.

Far from unleashing the power of the private sector, cuts to government have prolonged the economic pain, as demand is removed from the economy without an adequate replacement. Despite this, conservatives continue to press for further and greater cuts to government spending –- the Pentagon notwithstanding. What conservatives refuse to acknowledge is that we are living through the recovery they say they want, and it’s been disastrous.

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, November 7, 2011

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Economic Recovery, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quality Vs Quantity: Yes, We Need Jobs. But What Kind?

On Thursday, President Obama will deliver a major speech on America’s employment crisis. But too often, what is lost in the call for job creation is a clear idea of what jobs we want to create.

I recently led a research team to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has advertised his track record of creating jobs. From January 2000 to January 2010, employment in the Valley grew by a remarkable 42 percent, compared with our nation’s anemic 1 percent job growth.

But the median wage for adults in the Valley between 2005 and 2008 was a stunningly low $8.14 an hour (in 2008 dollars). One in four employed adults earned less than $6.19 an hour. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that the per capita income in the two metropolitan statistical areas spanning the Valley ranked lowest and second lowest in the nation.

These workers aren’t alone. Last year, one in five American adults worked in jobs that paid poverty-level wages. Worker displacement contributes to the problem. People who are laid off from previously stable employment, if they are lucky enough to find work, take a median wage hit of over 20 percent, which can persist for decades.

To understand the impact of low wages, in the Valley and elsewhere, we interviewed a wide range of people, including two directors of public health clinics, three priests, a school principal and four focus groups of residents. Everyone described a life of constantly trying to scrape by. One month they might pay for the phone, another, for utilities. Everyone knew how long each company would carry unpaid bills before cutting service. People spoke not only of their fear of an unexpected crisis — an illness, a broken car — but also of the challenge of paying for basic needs like school supplies. Many used the phrase “one paycheck away from homelessness.”

Because their parents cannot afford child care, children move among relatives and neighbors. They watch too much TV. They don’t finish their homework. Older children grow up too fast from parenting their younger siblings. As one person observed, “All you think about is which bill is more important.”

Economic stress strains marriages. Parents cannot afford quinceañeras for their daughters. In church youth groups, teenagers ask why they should stay in school if all they can get are low wages.

Many children are latchkey kids. Accidents are frequent; we heard of an elementary school student who badly burned himself in a science experiment, with his older brother watching. Their father couldn’t take time off from work to visit his son in the hospital. Children come to school sick. Parents miss teacher conferences because they can’t afford time off. Type 2 diabetes is a scourge in the Valley. Since Type 2 diabetics can be asymptomatic for years, many don’t buy medicine; as time passes, they become severely ill, often losing sight or a limb.

The director at one clinic, with nearly 70,000 visits a year, estimated that half of its patients had anxiety or depression. Often people can’t get to the clinic because they cannot afford to lose work time or because gas costs too much. When they go, they take their families, because they have no child care.

And yet the Valley is not hopeless. Teachers stay late to help with homework. They make home visits to meet parents. Health clinic employees work overtime. The community organization Valley Interfaith has pushed for training opportunities and living-wage jobs. There is no “culture of poverty,” but the low-wage economy has corrosive and tragic consequences.

Must we choose between job quality and quantity? We have solid evidence that when employees are paid better and given more opportunities within a company, the gains outweigh the costs. For example, after a living wage ordinance took effect for employees at the San Francisco International Airport, in 1999, turnover fell and productivity rose.

Contrary to the antigovernment rhetoric, there is much that the public sector can do to improve the quality of jobs.

A recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute reported that 20 percent of federal contract employees earned less than the poverty level for a family of four, as opposed to 8 percent of traditional federal workers. Many low-wage jobs in the private sector (notably, the health care industry) are financed by taxpayers. The government can set an example by setting and enforcing wage standards for contractors.

When states and localities use their zoning powers to approve commercial projects, or offer tax incentives to attract new employers, they can require that workers be paid living wages; research shows this will not hurt job growth.

Labor standards have to be upgraded and enforced, particularly for those employers, typically in low-wage industries, who engage in “wage theft,” by failing to pay required overtime wages or misclassifying workers as independent contractors so that they do not receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

Americans have long believed that there should be a floor below which job quality does not fall. Today, polls show widespread support for upgrading employment standards, including raising the minimum wage — which is lower, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it was in 1968. It’s time for the federal government to take the lead in creating not just more jobs, but more good jobs. The job-growth mirage of the Rio Grande Valley cannot be our model.

By:  Paul Osterman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, September 5, 2011

September 6, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Corporations, Economic Recovery, Economy, Education, Government, Jobs, President Obama, States, Teachers, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Politics Of Austerity: It’s Not Too Late To Change Priorities

In a statement this morning, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blamed rising unemployment on “ out-of-control spending.”

Perhaps now would be a good time for reasonable political observers to call this what it is: dangerously stupid.

The latest jobs report is truly awful, and comes just a month after a May jobs report that was nearly as bad. Overall, it’s the worst back-to-back trend in nine months, and in the private sector, the worst two-month stretch since May/June of last year.

The question is what policymakers are prepared to do about it.

When the jobs reports were looking quite good in the early spring, Republican leaders were eager to take credit for the positive numbers they had nothing to do with. Needless to say, GOP officials are no longer claiming responsibility, and are in fact now eager to point fingers everywhere else. It’s a nice little scam Republicans have put together: when more jobs are being created, it’s proof they’re right; when fewer jobs are being created, it’s proof Obama’s wrong. Heads they win; tails Dems lose.

To put it mildly, GOP whining is misguided — whether they want to admit it or not, the economy is advancing exactly as they want it to. The private sector is being left to its own devices; the public sector is shedding jobs quickly; and the only permitted topic of conversation is about debt-reduction.

This is the script the GOP wrote. When it’s followed to the letter, Republican complaints are absurd.

Indeed, the great irony of the 2010 midterms is that voters were angry and frustrated by the weak economy, so they elected a lot of Republicans who are almost desperate to make matters worse.

At this point, the GOP agenda breaks down into two broad categories:

* Ignore the problem: Republicans have invested considerable time and energy into measures related to abortion, health care, NPR, and calling the loyalty of Muslim Americans into question. To date, Republicans have held exactly zero votes on bills related to job creation.

* Make the problem worse: When they’re not fighting a culture war, Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to take money out of the economy, against tax cuts they used to support, and against public investments proven to create jobs, all while threatening to send the economy into a tailspin through voluntarily default. By some measures, the GOP may even be trying to sabotage the economy as part of an election strategy.

We know austerity doesn’t make things better, in large part because it’s not supposed to. That’s the point on austerity — to impose pain and sacrifice, not to grow and flourish. We can already see the results at the state and local level, where officials are forced to cut spending and laying off thousands of public-sector workers. These were preventable job losses, but the congressional GOP refuses to consider state and local aid. Worse, they intend to duplicate the results at the federal level.

It’s not too late. We can boost public investments. The Federal Reserve can stop worrying about inflation that doesn’t exist. We can stop pretending spending cuts can create jobs.

If the politics won’t allow for measures to make things better — if, in other words, Republicans refuse to consider steps to create jobs — then it’s probably time for the public to change the politics.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 8, 2011

 

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Taxes, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memo To Gov Walker: This Is What Solidarity Looks Like

All of us have learned some lessons about the meaning of solidarity from the recent events in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” was a draconian assault on workers’ rights and unions. He followed this with what the Wisconsin education superintendent called “the greatest state cut to education since the Great Depression” and a host of other cuts that disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. Teachers and other public sector employees, along with parents, students, and many, many others, responded with an outpouring of creative, imaginative, and hope-inspiring acts of solidarity.

Solidarity is parents texting teachers to say: “I heard you were going to Madison today. Do you have space for one more in your car?” Solidarity is firefighters (who are not losing collective bargaining) showing up to parade among thousands of protesters every day for two weeks and sleeping on the cold, hard Capitol floors to keep the “people’s house” open for the people. Solidarity is people from as far away as Egypt and Antarctica calling in donations to Ian’s Pizza to feed protesters. Solidarity is strangers running up and saying “Thank you” as they sign a petition to recall their state senator in the most conservative, affluent white suburbs. Solidarity is when two educators can put together a protest on Wednesday night and get 200 picketers at a biased local news station Friday—after school and in the rain. The experience of being in the midst of something much larger than oneselfand realizing that we can change the world for the better, can take care of each other, can make decisions together—is life changing.

Acts of solidarity are growing in Wisconsin and beyond. And it’s a good thing, because solidarity is what we need to sustain us during the most difficult time for public employees and public education that our country has seen in our lifetimes. As the wealthy—and the politicians they have purchased—continue their pursuit of privilege and privatization, we need to be even more audacious in nurturing solidarity for survival.

The attacks on the public sphere go well beyond Wisconsin. Ohio recently passed a law that prohibits collective bargaining over health care and pensions for all public employees, including police and firefighters. Michigan’s Public Act 4, passed in March, allows the governor to appoint “emergency managers” for municipalities with “fiscal emergencies.” The governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and a handful of other states hope to replicate and expand the policies of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who eliminated collective bargaining for state employees six years ago through executive order. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to negotiate with state workers over health and benefits, and has proposed eliminating tenure, seniority, and civil service protections for teachers while imposing a mandatory test-based evaluation system not subject to collective bargaining.

Teacher Leadership

In Wisconsin, the teachers’ union was a major force in getting people out to the Capitol, with the Madison local, Madison Teachers Inc., taking the lead. After the first day of sick-outs by Madison-area teachers, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council called on 98,000 Wisconsin educators to come to the Capitol to protest the bill on Thursday and Friday instead of going to work. The push and pull between rank-and-file union members and union leaders was evident. Activist locals pushed the state organization, and rank-and-file members pushed their union locals. On the flip side, many union leaders asked reluctant members to go beyond their comfort zones and get active to defend their rights.

When Wisconsin teachers arrived at the Madison Capitol to join the protests, they stepped into a powerful tradition of progressivism and unionism. The signs, T-shirts, and invited speakers made it clear that this wasn’t just about teachers, it was about all workers’ rights. As the days wore on and the fight drew increasing attention in the national media, protesters became increasingly conscious that losing in Wisconsin could be the beginning of the end for workers’ rights across the country. Walker saw the situation the same way. He told a prank caller impersonating billionaire donor David Koch that “Ronald Reagan . . . had one of the most defining moments of his political career . . . when he fired the air traffic controllers. . . . This is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history.”

Walker claimed that “Wisconsin is broke” but, as Michael Moore told protesters at the Capitol: “America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. . . . Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.” In fact, one of Walker’s first acts as governor was to give the rich another $140 million in tax breaks.

America’s wealth is not only held unequally, it’s also misappropriated in obscene ways. Virtually always ignored in these discussions is the looming U.S. military budget, which was $663.8 billion last year. What would that money and those human resources mean, directed to meeting social needs instead of poured into weapons and conquest, including the endless occupation of Afghanistan? The current crisis is not an “unavoidable” consequence of economic recession; it is a bill come due for bailouts, bombs, and unsustainable inequality. And it’s being delivered to the wrong address by the political servants of the rich.

Cuts Target the Most Vulnerable

Compounding public employees’ anger at the attacks on their jobs and unions has been growing anger about the debilitating budget cuts that destroy public services and make it impossible to serve the needs of students, patients, or clients. Among Wisconsin teachers, this led to a feeling of “What do we have to lose?” Late one night, as dozens of teachers debated whether to organize a sick-out, one teacher remarked: “If one-third of your building calls in sick tomorrow, you’ll have the same staffing levels as you’ll have every day next year after the budget cuts.”

Attacks on the public sector—teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians, public health workers—are in essence attacks on the people they serve: children and those who are sick, elderly, homeless, disabled, jobless, newcomers, or otherwise in need of public services. In state after state, budget cuts have targeted those who are most vulnerable. The racial and class injustice of the cuts is undeniable. In Michigan, proposed cuts would close half the schools in Detroit, where 95 percent of the students are African American, and increase class size to 60. The Texas budget proposal would eliminate pre-K funding for almost 100,000 children. In Washington, cuts would eliminate prenatal and infant medical care for 67,000 poor women and their children. In Wisconsin the governor’s new budget hits Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest and most impoverished district, particularly hard. The proposal denies health care coverage and food stamps to many more people in need, including both documented and undocumented immigrants. It will take away college opportunities from undocumented immigrants by repealing the current state law that allows any resident to pay in-state tuition.

Also in Walker’s proposal is a huge expansion of public support for private schools. Milwaukee would become the first city in the United States in which any child, at any income level, could attend private school (including a religious school) on the public dime. And lest we think that this is a peculiarly Wisconsin development, the spending deal to avert a federal government shutdown in April included a plan to provide federal money to low-income students in Washington, D.C., to attend private schools.

This insistence on spending money on vouchers in the midst of a “fiscal crisis” exposes the right’s real goals. This is the future that many people with great wealth, and those who do their bidding, have in mind: the decimation of workers’ rights to organize, the withering of the public sphere, wealth and power increasingly concentrated at the top. The signs that proclaimed “We are all Wisconsin” and the solidarity protests across the country were a recognition that—as the Industrial Workers of the World said more than 100 years ago—an injury to one is an injury to all.

Sustaining Resistance

No doubt, in the face of these increasingly aggressive right-wing attacks, frustration, depression, and even desperation are widespread. But here, too, communities around the country can draw inspiration from Wisconsin. Months after the first protesters marched into the Capitol, people continue to organize. A few examples: massive recall campaigns aimed at state senators who voted to destroy collective bargaining; street protests dogging the governor’s footsteps; teacher “grade-ins” at local malls to make weekend grading and planning visible to the community; campaigns to get out the vote for progressive candidates; a boycott, led by the Wisconsin Firefighters Union, against M&I Bank, whose executives are major funders of Gov. Walker.

Yes, this is no time to despair. There is too much on the line. But it’s also no time to ignore very real and enduring problems in our schools. Too often, the enemies of public education have taken advantage of schools’ failure to meet the needs of disenfranchised communities to push privatization schemes and market reforms—from vouchers to Teach for America—as the alternative. As educators, we need to listen to students’ and parents’ genuine grievances about public schools and respond with engaged imaginations and a determination to work together as school communities. We need to build labor-community alliances that directly confront racial injustice. Moving in that direction were May Day celebrations this year in Wisconsin, New York, and other states built by conscious collaborations of labor and immigrant rights organizations with demands for human rights that were explicitly pro-immigrant, pro-labor, and anti-racist. We need more cross-union alliances like Jobs with Justice to organize the unorganized and support all workers’ rights—here and around the world. We need more teachers’ unions that defend communities as well as contracts, and political organizations that see electoral campaigns as one aspect of a permanent mobilization toward democracy and justice.

As the articles in our cover section point out (see p. 14), we need to equip our students to recognize what’s at stake—and to look at history and current social movements to see what people, including young people, can do when they act on their beliefs. If Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has taught us anything, it’s that what is at stake is the kind of society we want to live in.

These past few months in Wisconsin have shown that consciousness-raising and organizing can be filled with humor, imagination, and a bold spirit of resistance. We can build on this work, deepening and multiplying our expressions of solidarity, to sustain us through this intensely difficult time and propel us toward a more humane and just future.

By: The Editors, Rethinking Schools, June 24, 2011

June 25, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Economy, Education, Equal Rights, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Jobs, Koch Brothers, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kicking The Unemployed When They Are Down

Recent highly publicized national jobs reports showing private-sector gains being offset by public-sector losses have drawn attention to the macroeconomic costs of the austerity program already underway among state and local governments, and gaining steam in Washington.  But the effect on the most vulnerable Americans–particularly those out of work–is rarely examined in any systematic way.

At The American Prospect, Kat Aaron has put together a useful if depressing summary of actual or impending cutbacks (most initiated by the states, some by Congress) in key services for the unemployed and others suffering from economic trauma.  These include unemployment insurance, job retraining services, and family income supports.  In some cases, federal funds added by the 2009 stimulus package are running out.  In others, the safety net is being deliberately shredded.

A recent report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the most important family income support program, TANF (the “reformed” welfare block grant first established in 1996) is becoming an object of deep cuts in many states, precisely at the time it is most needed:

States are implementing some of the harshest cuts in recent history for many of the nation’s most vulnerable families with children who are receiving assistance through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. The cuts will affect 700,000 low-income families that include 1.3 million children; these families represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving TANF nationwide.A number of states are cutting cash assistance deeply or ending it entirely for many families that already live far below the poverty line, including many families with physical or mental health issues or other challenges. Numerous states also are cutting child care and other work-related assistance that will make it harder for many poor parents who are fortunate enough to have jobs to retain them.

This is perverse precisely because such programs were once widely understood as “counter-cyclical”–designed to temporarily expand in tough economic times.  Not any more, says CPBB:

To be effective, a safety net must be able to expand when the need for assistance rises and to contract when need declines. The TANF block grant is failing this test, for several reasons: Congress has level-funded TANF since its creation, with no adjustment for inflation or other factors over the past 15 years; federal funding no longer increases when the economy weakens and poverty climbs; and states — facing serious budget shortfalls — have shifted TANF funds to other purposes and have cut the TANF matching funds they provide.

This retrenchment, mind you, is what’s already happening, and does not reflect the future blood-letting implied by congressional Republican demands for major new cuts in federal-state safety net programs–most famously Medicaid, which virtually all GOPers want to convert into a block grant in which services are no longer assured.

If, as appears increasingly likely, the sluggish economy stays sluggish for longer than originally expected, and both the federal government and states continue to pursue Hoover-like policies of attacking budget deficits with spending cuts as their top priority, it’s going to get even uglier down at the level of real-life people trying to survive.  If you are unlucky enough to live in one of those states where governors and legislators are proudly hell-bent on making inadequate safety-net services even more inadequate or abolishing them altogether, it’s a grim road ahead.

By: Ed Kilgore, Democratic Strategist, June 10, 2011

June 11, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Economy, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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