Despite how much progress we've made since the Great Recession hit its nadir four years ago, talk of an economic recovery sounds like a fairytale for millions of Americans. More than 10 million people remain out of work in this country, and many have simply stopped searching because there just aren't enough jobs to go around.
The indisputable fact is, we are not creating enough jobs to keep up with population growth. Even after recovering all of the jobs that were lost during the recession, nearly eight million people will remain out of work because of this jobs gap.
Unfortunately, many in Congress remain entrenched in the illogical notion that the solution to our economic troubles starts and ends with slashing the federal deficit. Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years, yet we're not seeing a corresponding rise in job growth.
Gutting vital programs and services, starving our most vulnerable citizens of basic financial assistance and attacking the pay and benefits of dedicated civil servants will not create a single new job. In fact, austerity only adds to the growing jobs gap: the federal government actually ended 2013 with 79,000 fewer jobs, as agencies grappled with the continued fallout of sequestration, hiring freezes and budget shortfalls.
Government needs to be paving the way to prosperity, not severing its own limbs in the name of austerity. Rather than slashing services that millions of Americans rely on and cutting wages and benefits for government workers and retirees, Congress should be exploring ways to generate new sources of revenue that would put us on a path to prolonged economic growth.
Here's five things Congress should do right now:
1. Stop making federal employees and retirees the scapegoat for an economic crisis they had no part in creating. Federal employees have been bled dry by pay freezes and increases in retirement contributions. Last fall, the 16-day government shutdown forced more than 850,000 employees to stay home without pay. The shutdown cost the U.S. economy at least $24 billion, including $2 billion in back payments to furloughed employees who would have rather been at work. These actions are ruining employee morale, threatening the viability of important federal programs and wasting money.
2. Close tax loopholes that allow far too many large corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes and require the wealthiest one percent to pay at least as much in taxes as everyone else. The country's current tax system favors wealthy individuals and corporations and gives perverse incentives for companies to outsource jobs and hide their profits in overseas tax shelters.
3. Invest in a growing backlog of public works projects. Stopping corporate tax haven abuse would generate upwards of $90 billion every year -- money that could be used to repair crumbling roads and bridges, restore aging school buildings, upgrade water treatment plants and strengthen our flood control systems. A $124 billion investment in essential public structures and infrastructure upgrades would create as many as 2.5 million jobs nationwide, while improving the nation's health and safety and saving us from more costly repairs down the line.
4. Raise the minimum wage so anyone who puts in an honest day's work can actually afford to feed their family and put a roof over their head. Minimum wage workers today earn less than they did in 1950, when accounting for inflation. Adjusting the minimum wage puts much-needed cash into the hands of working-class Americans that they will then spend in their local communities. This influx of cash will drive demand for goods and services, serving as a rising tide to lift all of our boats.
5. Stop the destructive and costly practice of outsourcing federal jobs to private contractors whose main goal is turning a profit, not serving the taxpayer. One only needs to look at the disastrous rollout of Obamacare to realize that we are relying too much on unregulated, untested and unskilled corporations to manage government programs and services that can be done for less money, with more oversight and greater success by experienced federal employees.
As Congress plots its course for 2014, they must pursue an agenda of equitable and sustainable economic growth. America prospers when its economy grows from the middle-out; not the top down. The way forward is clear: close tax loopholes, invest in infrastructure improvements, improve working conditions for our dedicated civil servants, insource government work currently being performed by private contractors, and narrow the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide.