Job Creation Should Take Precedence over Deficit Reduction
Sherry, Paul H., National Catholic Reporter
The current budget debate has deep implications for both the unemployment crisis and the increasing concentration of wealth in American society.
Not long ago, Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.; and Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, framed the issues in two succinct sentences: "Despite a weak economic recovery and persistent, unacceptably high unemployment, Washington is prematurely pivoting from job creation to deficit reduction. Worse yet, many of the budget proposals flooding Washington are nothing but reverse Robin Hood plans to redistribute wealth from working families, to the most privileged among us."
They are right on both counts. That is exactly what's happening and will continue to happen unless you and I speak and act otherwise. At this critical moment, we dare not turn our attention away from job creation lest so many of our people continue to hurt and our economy continues to spiral downward. We dare not turn our attention away from the increasing concentration of wealth in America lest the power that that wealth commands continues to distort democratic processes while at the same time further exacerbating our nation's budget bottom line.
The unemployment crisis and its devastating impact on so many American workers and their families continue and threaten to worsen. The official unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent; some 13.9 million people. In addition, more than 8 million persons are working part time while preferring to work full time. If one adds together the officially unemployed, those working part time who would prefer to be working full time, and those who are available to work but have given up looking, there are, according to the Economic Policy Institute, 24.6 million people either jobless or working fewer hours than desired.
Given these stark realities, to turn away, at this time, from job creation in favor of deficit reduction is both morally questionable and economically wrong. America's unemployed need good jobs so they can feed their families, so that the taxes they will pay with the money they earn can help restore the economy of this nation. If we want to reduce the deficit, one sure way is to create goodjobs. Private jobs and, when needed, public jobs.
Speaking for many, Dean Baker, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, writes persuasively, "A deficit reduction agenda is a serious problem in the context of an economy that badly needs additional demand. ... Jobs should be the top priority for policymakers right now.
"The people who are out of work are not the ones who gave us this recession. It is the fault of the people who design economic policy."
The sad fact is that as bad as the current job situation is now, to turn from employment creation and focus instead on deficit reduction in this environment will cost even more jobs. And as unemployment rises, the misery index for the unemployed and their families will rise also and the economy will not strengthen; it will further weaken.
We dare not stand quietly by. Rather, in the words of the book of Proverbs, we need to "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy." This is not the time to pivot away from job creation. We need to stay focused on employment creation and to reduce the severe wealth gap in this society. By reducing the wealth gap, not only do we strengthen our democratic processes, we also aaaress the budget deficit. Yet not only are we not reducing that gap, but through proposals now being advanced in the halls of Congress, we are threatening to increase it.
Charles M. Blow, writing in The New York Times about current moves to reduce the top individual tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, says: "This isn't about balancing budgets or fiscal discipline or prosperity-for-prosperity stewardship. This is open piracy for plutocrats. This is about reshaping the government and economy to benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and the powerless. …