President Obama does not seem to understand that the single most important concern for most Americans is the vast and growing national joblessness. No one seems safe from the spreading collapse of work. Indeed almost 30 million Americans who want jobs cannot find one, and their ranks are growing by more than 15,000 workers per day.
The response of the President and Congress is a timid economic recovery plan, enacted in February 2009, the goal of which was to contain unemployment at 8.5 percent, even as total joblessness more than doubled to 17.5 percent by October. More than nine months into that plan, only a quarter of the funds have been spent, and no alternations have been made on what is clearly an inadequate effort. The only thing that both the GOP and Democratic leaders have agreed upon is the necessity of giving Wall Street anything it wants, which they have done in abundance.
Yet, beyond the political myopia, indifference, and corruption in Washington, there is a harsh and worsening reality across the country: People without jobs cannot pay mortgages, buy cars, pay tuition, care for elder relatives, or even get food and clothing for their families. Millions of unemployed workers are no longer eligible to receive unemployment insurance, the state funds are depleted, and our private charities are overwhelmed. America is slipping into a new depression in which a handful of people on Wall Street thrive, a few transnational corporations prosper and the rest of us either face ruin or already are falling further and further down the economic ladder.
A good job is what people need. Moreover, America will need millions of new jobs to fill that demand -- jobs that pay living wages, have benefits, and are permanent. Jobs created in an economy with long-term, self-sustaining, non-inflationary growth. Jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
Fortunately, some in Congress are not special interest puppets and remain connected to the people they represent. They see and understand the economic pain and harm being done by Washington's political paralysis. One of those is Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the long-time Representative from Toledo, Ohio, who led the fight against job-killing trade deals such as NAFTA and last year opposed the open-checkbook bailout of Wall Street.
Another is Bobby Rush (D-ILL) from Chicago's South side where unemployment is at emergency room levels. Rush is a gentlemanly minister from one of the America's poorest districts, a former Black Panther, cancer survivor, and streetwise pol against whom Obama rudely ran in 2000.
A third is Candace Miller (R-MI) whose district is the poster child for "Reagan Democrat Territory." It lies at the edge of long suffering Detroit. Miller is an articulate and effective lawmaker who has been unrelenting in her efforts to resuscitate the US auto industry.
Each of these three has lived the outsourcing of living wage jobs and their displacement by the avalanche of imports from penny wage workers, the disappearance of manufacturing and agriculture capacity, and with that, the downdraft on a middle class way of life.
On November 20th, Kaptur, Rush and Miller jointly announced the formation of the Jobs Now! Congressional Caucus. It has a charter membership of more than 125 members from both sides of the aisle.
Getting so much support so quickly is a strong signal that many in Congress are willing to do something about America's job crisis now. It also signals that if the Leadership does not lead on this issue, they may face a "jobs revolt" among their members.
The first action of the new Caucus, Kaptur says, "[W]ill be the introduction of a resolution to express the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States faces a nationwide job crisis that requires a robust policy response."
This will be an interesting vote. I predict that it will pass almost unanimously. Who can publicly oppose job creation?
More important, a big vote will give Kaptur, Rush, and Miller a powerful platform from which they can advocate a host of issues such as quick and full funding of depleted state unemployment insurance funds, expanded spending on jobs programs, such as a massive infrastructure rebuilding initiative, and a renegotiation of the many one-sided trade deals, such as NAFTA, that have cost so many American jobs.
Meanwhile, President Obama is convening a White House Jobs Conference on December 3rd. The announcement said that the meeting would involve corporate CEOs, academics, labor leaders, bankers and others. I suspect that most invitees will be the same elites and economists whose actions and advice got the nation into its current economic mess.
More interesting is whether the President will invite Kaptur, Rush, and Miller -- three Members of Congress who are actually trying the bipartisan approach on which Obama campaigned in 2008. Certainly, they would add views that are unlikely to be found among the other attendees.
Will President Obama invite these three Members to his Jobs Conference? The answer will be a neat little test of the President's seriousness about the jobs issue.
(Post Script - None of the three Members were invited. PC-12/4/2009)