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What Kind of Job Creation Do We Need?


In this presidential election year, when the outcome hinges on the economy, the phrases "job creation" and "job creators" are quick to roll off the candidates' tongues. It is not hard to see why. With up to 24 million unemployed and underemployed, and those working subject to the downward pressure this creates in living standards, the need for full time jobs looms large.

 

However, while the repeated use of politically charged catch phrases may appeal to half conscious listeners like advertising slogans or the chanting of magical incantations, they do not necessarily have any bearing on the subject at hand. Both Obama's and Romney's ideas about job creation are in harsh conflict with the needs of U.S. workers and real life experience.

 

Even with the growth, albeit weak, of the U.S. economy, the labor market is still failing to draw in those workers without employment. According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are 3.4 job seekers for every job.

 

Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that from March 2011 to March 2012, real hourly earnings fell 0.6 percent for all private sector workers and declined by an even greater degree – 1.0 percent – for non-supervisory and production workers. The uptick in the economy has been good for those who can afford high priced luxury goods, but the vast majority is still living in the Great Recession.

 

Seventy percent of the U.S. economy depends on consumption. Without growth in U.S. consumers' ability to buy, there is no growth in demand. Without a growth in demand, there is no motivation to invest in the production of commodities and services because there is no profit to be realized if people do not buy the product.

 

While the big corporations are hoarding $2.5 trillion and 93 percent of the "recovery's" gains have gone to the top 1 percent, this makes no difference for the overall robustness of the economy from a social perspective. The decline in the economy's consumer base, that is, the shrinking of workers' buying power, has come into conflict with the corporation and bank owners' profit motive for investing. Thereby, a great accumulation of wealth for a few exists side by side with great poverty for many with no way out according to the scriptures of the free market.

 

Funded by and completely loyal to Wall Street, both Obama and Romney adhere to these scriptures. While there is much fuss and extreme exaggeration made over their differences in relation to the economy, they both stand by the commandment that it is only the business of the private sector to create jobs. Consequently, their policies are sold as ways to enable the private sector to recover and grow.

 

All the big business bailouts and tax cuts are doomed to failure as long as unemployment remains high and real wages are not recovering. While Obama makes statements about taxing the rich, he has not pursued this with the same vigor he applied in providing them with trillions of dollars in corporate loans, subsides, and tax cuts during his presidency. In addition, the cuts he stands by in programs that benefit workers, such as Medicare and Social Security, exacerbate the fundamental problems with the economy because they cut away at workers disposable income, further limiting their ability to buy goods the economy could be producing if there was the demand.

 

Good jobs are not abundant because the rich aren't rich enough. The problem is that the vast majority of working people are struggling to get by and therefore are not in a position to purchase additional products.

 

The kind of jobs-creation program we need will not be found in either presidential candidate’s playbook. In fact, it will be the polar opposite of their debunked approaches. This is because a real jobs creation program will put workers’ needs first at the expense of Wall Street's greed. What is needed is a federal jobs program funded by making Wall Street and the rich pay for their economic crisis and pay back all the tax breaks and subsidies they have accumulated over the last 30 years. There is no shortage of work that needs to be done in maintaining and rebuilding our infrastructure on an environmentally sound basis, expanding our health care system so that it is available to all regardless of income, strengthening our declining public education, and providing social services to those in need. Likewise, there is no shortage of dollars that Wall Street now uses for their own selfish purposes that could not go to society as a whole.

 

If this solution is not to be found in the Democrat's and Republican’s playbook, it follows that it will require a political force outside of the two corporate party system to make it happen. That is, it will require a Labor/community-led social movement in the streets and workplaces to turn up the heat and demand it. The strength of such a social movement will be in its numbers and ability to hurt Wall Street's profits by going on strike. Its ability to win will be determined by the unity forged in demanding a jobs program that can begin to immediately start putting people to work. This will run counter to the line of the Democrat and Republican parties who insist on waiting for the corporations to do so.

 

There is a historical precedent for this kind of jobs creation. It is Roosevelt's 1930s Work Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA put millions to work building many of the highways, bridges, and dams that are still in use today. Nevertheless, Roosevelt consciously designed the program in such a way as not to compete with the private sector. Its potential was stunted by this restriction and therefore failed to provide anything close to full employment. And it relegated much of the WPA workers' labor to useless busy work.

 

While a new WPA would qualify as a great leap forward compared to what the presidential candidates are advocating today, it is possible and necessary to do better. We need a massive social movement that not only demands jobs, but full employment for everyone.

Since the private sector is unable to provide this most fundamental and crucial service to society, the public sector must step forward to insure that everyone has a job and has a decisive grassroots voice in what these jobs are to accomplish. Jobs are how we make a living, and we don’t really have a life without one.

 

Mark Vorpahl is an union steward, social justice activist, and writer for Workers' Action – www.workerscompass.org. He can be reached atPortland@workerscompass.org.  

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