On the Road to a Jobless 'Recovery'

By Moberg, David | In These Times, July 2010 | Go to article overview

On the Road to a Jobless 'Recovery'


Moberg, David, In These Times


Democrats and unions fail to make job creation a national priority

ON A COOL SPRING DAY, a small group of organizers and unemployed workers from Jobs With Justice gathered-fittingly-in the Debs Room of the elegant, if fading, garment workers' union hall to hatch plans to form the Chicago Council of the Unemployed.

"We've been in a crisis for over a year," said Lorraine Mora-Chavez, laid off in early 2009 from her job as a researcher and an advisor to Latino students at DePaul University. Now worried that her extended unemployment benefits might end, and facing likely foreclosure on a house she can't sell, Mora-Chavez asked with plaintive anger, "Where's the fight back?"

Despite union lobbying for federal aid for the jobless and efforts to organize unemployed workers, like the Machinists' online "U-Cubed" (Ur Union of the Unemployed) project, there has been little organized political action by or for the jobless. But unions could - and largely do not - organize their own unemployed former members as a protest force. Both community organizations and the AFLCIOs community affiliate, Working America (with nearly 3 million members) could also do more to target the unemployed in their organizing. More pressure from the unemployed could counterbalance the right-wing attack on big government and deficit spending.

Unemployment in the United States currently hovers at 10 percent, and more than 17 percent if involuntary part-time and discouraged job-seekers are included. And according to most forecasts, it is likely to remain above pre-crisis levels for at least three years. In good times, the economy might generate 400,000 new jobs each month. Today, the United States needs about 15 million jobs to make up for recession losses, population growth and labor force drop-outs.

It may soon need more. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, and city and state workers could be out of a job as a result of budget crunches. The Euro zone crisis could spread to the United States, and a weaker Euro will hurt U.S. exports. The 2009 stimulus money will be largely spent by later this year, eliminating a source of jobs.

Despite record numbers of people being out of work for six months or more, the Obama administration and conservative Democrats in Congress - spooked by Republican hysteria about deficits and "big government" - are failing to address this crisis.

By early June, Congress had only approved a temporary renewal of extended unemployment benefits, leaving the longterm jobless with no support. Aid to states, school systems and local governments that could have saved a couple hundred thousand jobs fell victim to the misguided, cynical deficit phobia.

"We are going to need a dynamite recovery to get us back to five-percent unemployment," says Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, an independent policy group. "We may never get there."

According to a May NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll, voters rank job creation and economic growth over concern about the deficit and government spending 35 percent to 20 percent And in the midterm congressional elections, Democrats could do better than pundits expect if they run a jobs-oriented campaign, as union-backed Democrat Mark Critz did in his May special election victory in a largely white, working-class district of Pennsylvania that voted for John McCain in 2008.

But Democrats so far have little new to offer voters this year on job creation. And NBC pollsters report that 42 percent of Americans do not believe that the February 2009 stimulus package will help the economy. Yet, limited as it was, it worked: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs in the first quarter by 1.8 to 4.1 million. Many voters, however, confuse the Recovery Act with the much-loathed bank bailout.

Two failures, one problem

Unemployment in the current downturn reflects two failures of the economy - one long-term, one (with luck) short-term. …

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