The revolt across the political landscape on Tuesday against incumbents wasn't just an attack against the Washington establishment, but an outpouring of rage against political elites of all stripes who haven't realized the economic crisis still gripping American workers. As Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, asks sensibly enough, "Why isn't our government doing more to put people back to work? "
Despite some positive news last week with 290,000 new jobs added, unemployment still remains near 10% -- and will continue to do so for years. But there's little sign that either Congressional leaders or the Obama administration will take any major actions -- outside of spending $23 billion to save teachers' jobs -- to provide full time work for the 27 million people who are either unemployed or under-employed.
At the same time, Congress is dithering about offering a short-term extension to those whose unemployment is about to run out on June 2. And there's little interest in either a new law extending unemployment beyond the currently allowed 99 weeks, or adopting an aggressive job creations package, such as Rep. George Miller's Local Jobs for America Act.That bill, relatively modest compared to the more ambitious $400 billion program labor unions had favored, would spend $100 billion over two years to create one million new jobs.
Alan Charney, the campaign manager for Jobs for America Now, told In These Times, " We can't understand why this isn't a political slam dunk: it creates a lot of jobs, and and every member of Congress who votes for it will be able to say exactly how many jobs it creates in his state or district."
Economic need, though, is colliding with the new mantra in Washington about deficit-reduction, the latest political craze that offers a patina of bipartisanship but overlooks the need for short-term spending to recover from the recession.
The GOP, by opposing virtually all major jobs program, is adding to the chorus of deficit hawks in Washington. Last week, GOP leaders scuttled a Democratic bill to promote science and research jobs by forcing the bill back to committee by adding a rider that demanded that Democrats vote to support pornography. As TPMDC described the maneuver: " In an example of Republican obstructionism rendered beautiful by its simplicity, the GOP yesterday killed a House bill that would increase funding for scientific research and math and science education by forcing Democrats to vote in favor of federal employees viewing pornography."
Underlying Democratic inaction and Republican obstructionism is the Washington cult of seeking deficit reduction even at the expense of current jobs and long-term economic stability.
Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect puts the issue bluntly:
The economy needs a half million new jobs every month for the next four years, just to return to the prerecession unemployment rate of 2006. And that economy was nothing to brag about, with average wage growth lagging behind inflation since 2001.
Perversely, austerity has become the cure du jour. Top administration officials say there will be no new jobs initiative, because deficit reduction is needed to reassure the bond market. President Obama's new fiscal commission is expected to recommend cutting services and raising taxes.
You have to wonder if the Obama economic team is talking to the political team. If the Democrats suffer a blowout in the November midterm elections and Obama risks being a one-term president, the biggest reason will be persistently high unemployment.
The issue of jobs has simply dropped off the radar screen. Obama tackled health care, and now he is focused on banking reform, immigration, and nuclear proliferation, which are all necessary causes -- but he will live or die politically based on whether he can get more jobs and more good jobs created, with some measurable gains by November.
And as Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, observes,"There remains a dark underbelly of long-term joblessness that puts genuine
recovery still very far off. Between the jobs we have lost since the recession began and growth in
the working age population, we have a deficit of roughly 11 million jobs--a hole it will take
many more months and years of strong job growth to fill. [This week's] jobs report is an encouraging
one, but the story remains a tale of two cities - even as jobs return for some, the picture is
growing more grim for many who remain unemployed."
How grim? As Isaiah Poole of Campaign for America's Future pointed out recently, an important, but little-noticed, new report from Rutgers University, "No End In Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment," shows just how severe the impact has been on the long-term unemployed:
There's a new study today that shows once again how insanely wrong conservatives are when they say that extending unemployment benefits in today's economy only discourages people from finding work...
The report summary says it best:
"No End in Sight underscores the fact that positive growth in the nation's economyhas done little to reach millions of skilled workers still adrift in the most severe period of prolonged joblessness in decades. While the worst phase of the Great Recession may be behind us, the vast majority of jobless Americans have not found new jobs. When they did find work, all but a few took pay cuts and lost benefits. Among those still searching for work -- many for more than a year -- are millions who have never been without a job and who have at least a college education."
This report comes as Congress faces two decisions. One is a one-year continuation of extended unemployment benefits; the current extended unemployment benefits program is authorized to run through June 2. The second is whether to lift the cap on regular and extended unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks, the current maximum. While there is a will among Democratic leaders in the Senate to push the one-year extension, there is little enthusiasm for changing the 99-week ceiling.
Without an extension of the 99-week cap, there are an estimated 100,000 California residents who have exhausted all of the unemployment benefits available to them, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. That same article quotes private-sector employment experts as estimating that as many as 1 million people nationally have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.
The disconnect between what progressives and labor say is needed compared to what Washington insiders are actually doing -- in this case, about jobs -- has never been greater. It's small wonder that bloggers, liberal journalists and activists are getting increasingly frustrated at the upbeat commentary and hype about an economy that still leaves millions of people behind -- even as the organizational clout needed to push through a far-reaching jobs bill has so far missed the mark. As David Johnson, a Campaign for America's Future fellow observes, in a near-hysterical headline, "It's The JOBS, Stupid! Why DC Elites Don't See This."
Shuttling among cable chat shows, suburban homes, think tanks, lobbying firms and Congress, there's little for them to be alarmed about. But Johnson points to the rising anger in Washington that threatens the elites in power -- and why they don't get it:
People care about jobs. They still care about jobs. And politicians who don't care about jobs will lose their jobs, because that is what motivates voters.
Polling at Pollingreport.com proves that people are much more concerned about jobs than deficits. (Note there are some polls that show equal concern, no polls that show deficit with a higher concern)
* FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll. May 4-5 Economy and jobs 47% Deficit, spending %15
* BS News/New York Times Poll. April 5-12 Economy/Jobs 49% Budget deficit/National debt 5%....
DC is a manufactured information environment
People in DC see things differently because there is a manufactured environment there. The one time when lobbyists do care about manufacturing is when they are manufacturing the appearance of public support for their issue.
If you are trying to influence national policy you influence DC. You spend a lot of money to make the DC opinion leaders think that your issue is urgent and the public is demanding action. You create "astroturf" which is a name for a lobbyist-manufactured appearance of grassroots support. You get your stories into the morning Politico, which every DC staffer reads on the train into the capital, but no one outside of DC cares about. You get the cable news show producers to book your talking heads. You wine and dine (and get lucrative speaking engagements for) the DC punditocracy so they'll talk urgently about your issue. You put ads on the DC radio stations.
After a while everyone in the DC area thinks your issue is the only thing voters are concerned about, while outside of DC everyone wonders why DC people are talking about something so idiotic and unimportant to regular people.
A political tsunami is heading towards Washington in November, threatening incumbents of either party while independents desert the Democrats, but few inside Washington are listening. That's why bloggers like Johnson are reduced to shouting in print: "Lesson: It's the jobs, stupid. JOBS FOR MAIN STREET!"
This post was adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Working In These Times blog.