We have a brutal – and worsening – jobs crisis in this country. The human casualties are mounting. But Washington doesn’t get it. The focus there is on cutting spending, not on creating jobs. We witness an Alice in Wonderland world where powerful legislators believe that they can turn nonsense into logic. They are wrong; and we are likely to suffer for it.
Last month’s jobs numbers were horrible, but the crisis is much deeper than one month of bad news. As economist Charles McMillion of MBG Information Services reports, in the U.S., the private sector employs nearly 2 million fewer Americans than it did in 2000 – at a time when the U.S. had 30 million fewer people. The only other time the U.S. has lost jobs for that long was in the Great Depression. Since 2000, the U.S. has lost 5.5 million manufacturing jobs, or nearly one-third of all manufacturing employment. The Great Recession drove unemployment up, but the decline in good jobs has been going on for more than a decade.
For African Americans, the Great Recession is a Great Depression. We are in danger of losing an entire generation, even as what was an emerging middle class is decimated. CBS News reports that the unemployment rate among African Americans in the United States is now at 16.2 percent; for black teenagers, it is a devastating 41 percent. In New York, as in Chicago and other urban centers, African-American men are suffering worse than Depression level unemployment. Some 34 percent of New York City’s young black men ages 19 to 24 are not working. The percentage of black men with jobs is at the lowest level since the Labor Department began keeping such records in the 1970s.
The housing collapse hit African Americans and Latinos the hardest. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that property depreciation will cost African Americans $194 billion. And 8 percent of homes owned by Latinos and African Americans are being lost to foreclosure.
At issue is jobs – and why Washington seems intent on making it worse.
Republican leaders push for deep cuts in spending, arguing that will help create jobs. But this is fantasyspeak. Government spending cuts at the local, state and federal levels are forcing layoffs of teachers, police and other government employees, as well as of private-sector employees in government contracts from construction companies to universities.
Republicans say that while cutting spending may cost government jobs – “So be it,” declared House Speaker John Boehner – the cuts will reassure businesses that are now not hiring, because they fear future tax- or interest-rate hikes. But with interest rates near record lows and tax breaks for new investment, any business worth its salt would borrow now if it had profitable prospects. What businesses lack are customers, not confidence. And that will be worsened as spending cuts result in more layoffs, and the expiration of unemployment insurance terminates income support for millions by the end of the year.
Conservatives argue that even though deficit reduction is important, avoiding top-end tax hikes is far more important. “We can’t raise taxes on “job creators.” That sounds good, but the job creators aren’t creating jobs with the tax breaks we’ve already given them. In fact, companies are sitting on trillions in profits. The richest 1 percent captured nearly two-thirds of all income growth since 2000, and pay the lowest tax rates in a generation, yet we lost jobs over that time. We’d do better taxing the big corporations and wealthiest Americans and using that money to rebuild America and put people to work.
This is a national emergency. The president had a deficit commission. Now we need an Emergency Commission on Jobs and the Economy, convening business and labor leaders to lay out a bold agenda for jobs and economic revival. Challenge those who stand in the way. Let Americans have a choice.
A nation that writes off a generation because of partisan politics has lost more than its way; it has lost its soul.
JESSE JACKSON firstname.lastname@example.org