06/18/2010 05:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Progressives Blew the Jobs Fight

The fact that the progressive "plan" for an extra "stimulus" was not just focused, but obsessed on spending more money to support the employment of government job holders is very discouraging. This focus not only provided a tremendous excuse for Senate Republicans to block some $150 billion in proposed new stimulus funding---including an extension of unemployment benefits----but sadly shows that "progressives" are as lost as anyone in understanding where the country is. The unemployment that is crippling communities---and constitutes an ever more destructive drag on the future---is not among government employees, whether teachers (who were to be given $23 billion just for them), police officers, or bureaucrats. It is in working class and poor communities---where 30% to 50% unemployment rates are now common.

The last stimulus didn't reach these people---and neither would this one. Indeed, the real name for the last stimulus, I think, would be to call it the "elite" stimulus. I haven't seen any precise analysis, but looking at the categories of "jobs" it favored, it's a good bet that the majority of employment "saved or created" went to people earning well over $50,000 a year. In addition to the massive infusion for state and local government employees, take the some $10 billion---including the astounding $5 billion for "cancer research" that former Senator Arlen Specter demanded for his vote---that went into so-called health research and disease prevention.

Since this sum was largely distributed through the National Institutes of Health, close to all of it was given to "academic research centers," that is, to research hospitals and universities to undertake two-year projects that employed people with doctorates who "study" things; for this task, they generally make well over $100,000 a year plus 30 to 40% benefits packages that rival those of direct government employees. Even while these salaries and benefits were being distributed in the academic world, however, all involved knew that a good portion of this "work" was utterly futile. Effectively setting up $5 billion of "cancer research" in a two year period, for a prime example, is impossible. It is hard to believe that that $5 billion left behind much beyond a mass of dead and dissected rodents. Yet, what it could have paid for in real jobs is heart-breaking---some 100,000 two-year jobs for ordinary people at $25,000 a year.

The way for progressives to contribute to the jobs debate is to dig in, face facts and start unrelenting analysis of where money really goes---and then work to switch it to where it is actually useful and progressive.

This week, as progressives were having a Washington conference to rally round the
new stimulus, the Empire Center for New York State Policy released a new study documenting that 13% of police and firefighters retiring in New York State (outside New York City) now receive pensions of $100,000 a year or more---up from just 2% in 2,000.

This is bounty they will get year after year until they die. (The person who made out best in New York pensions was, tellingly, the former head of the New York State Retirement System. He gets $261,037 a year until he dies.) There's no way to pretend that tax-supported benefits like these, to be found throughout the nation, aren't now as responsible as the economic downturn for the increasing curtailment of core city and state services.

Take a final and very sad example. New York State's juvenile detention centers, which are so rotten they are now threatened with a federal takeover, cost $200,000 per year per unfortunate juvenile held in them. The reason for this cost is that, since the state, itself, at this point, basically won't send kids to its own centers, their population has decreased to the level of one staff for every juvenile! Nonetheless, the involved unions have maintained an unrelenting campaign to destroy the efforts of Gladys Carrion, the New York State Commissioner of Children and Families, to close these federally lacerated, kid scarring, money-wasting and almost empty facilities.

As "public" employees insist on holding open empty youth facilities for their own benefit, when we look at the Summer Youth Jobs program, it becomes evident that for real kids, trying their best, opportunity is fleeing. Reflecting federal, state, and city slashes, New York City this year has only 17,000 jobs for summer youth---down from 52,000 last year! These 25-hour a week minimum wage jobs are about the only chance for literal millions of kids in urban areas to obtain work for a mere six weeks. But, they are not going to get those jobs this year or, alas, for the foreseeable future as long as utter unneeded billions are still being poured into state and local bureaucracies.

There's a thought for thoughtful progressives.