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Richard Trumka Headshot

Nothing 'Normal' About It

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So today we learned that we lost another 131,000 jobs last month, with an anemic 71,000 jobs created by the private sector and unemployment remaining at 9.5 percent. Last week we saw that economic growth slowed from 3.7 percent in the first quarter to 2.4 percent in the second quarter and personal consumption growth fell from 1.9 percent to 1.6 percent.

Let's brush past the pain of joblessness and take the issue right to corporate terms: People who don't have jobs don't make good consumers. But business is unmoved.

Nonfinancial companies are hoarding cash. They're sitting on a reported cash pile $1.8 trillion high, about a quarter more than at the start of the recession. But they're not hiring. One recent survey of CFOs says most don't expect unemployment to drop back to pre-recession levels until 2012 or later -- even though they foresee rising corporate earnings.

Do we need more evidence America's jobs crisis is not going to be solved any time soon by the private sector, even though its refusal to create more jobs keeps demand low and could stall out our fragile recovery? Do we need more evidence that our elected leaders must do more to put people back to work?

It's astonishing to me that the same day we got the dismal news about July's unemployment, the Senate went off on its long August recess -- which many members will use to campaign. Many Democrats have been fighting on our side, along with the Obama administration, for federal investments to create and save good jobs. They finally broke the filibuster that had been tying up state and local aid to save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, police, nurses and others who provide vital public services.

But a near solid bloc of Republicans in the Senate -- and a Democrat or two as well -- has stood as immovable obstacles to job creation. I keep asking myself: How the heck can they go back home and with a straight face ask jobless machinists, construction workers and teachers for their votes? How can they gladhand firefighters, police officers, school bus drivers and postal workers who are waiting to see if they get a layoff notice today?

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently lamented, "Yes, growth is slowing, and the odds are that unemployment will rise, not fall, in the months ahead. That's bad. But what's worse is the growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn't care -- that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal."

We cannot accept as "normal" almost 15 million Americans out of work and another 8.5 million underemployed, or unemployment rates of 15.6 percent among African Americans and 26.1 percent among teenagers. Maybe our companies can function with the status quo, sheltered by hidden wads of cash and a recovering stock market -- but our families can't.

As Krugman said, "The point is that a large part of Congress -- large enough to block any action on jobs -- cares a lot about taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population, but very little about the plight of Americans who can't find work."

Shameful. Absolutely shameful.

Here are their excuses: First, we can't spend money to create jobs because of the deficit. Second, businesses aren't creating jobs because they're worried about new regulations.

Shameless. Shameless hypocrisy.

Once and for all, let's get it on the record: We do not have an immediate deficit crisis. We have an immediate jobs crisis. We cannot hope to shrink the deficit if the economy fails to grow or create jobs -- or worse, if it falls back into a double-dip recession. Once we get past the jobs crisis we can focus on stabilizing the national debt over the long term.

If there's any doubt the deficit hawks in Congress are blowing smoke, take a look at what they're saying about the George W. Bush tax cuts. They want to extend them. And those tax cuts make up 60 percent of the deficit they claim to be so concerned about.

And is business worried about new regulations? Recently enacted regulations are not going to hurt responsible businesses any more than tough drunk driving laws harm people who don't drive drunk.

If businesses really were failing to hire because of worry about regulations, they would be working their existing workforce longer hours. But they're not.

The truth is, businesses aren't dipping into that hoard of cash to hire because they're awaiting the resurrection of consumer demand.

And that's not going to happen until people have jobs.

It's a circle--and we can either watch as a vicious circle takes us spinning downward or turn it into a virtuous circle that lifts America up.

I know which I choose.

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