This Jobs Bill Could Work

Isaiah J. Poole

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced a bill today that is a meaningful response to the nation’s jobs crisis. It still falls short of the need, but it would accomplish far more than the anemic measures that have been served up by Congress so far.

The legislation acknowledges a fundamental truth that conservatives refuse to face: You cannot put the economy back on a stable growth path without significant direct government spending on jobs. That’s particularly true for urban areas, where the private sector job base was weak even before the current recession, and social services, which are facing devastating cuts in much of the country as state and local tax receipts dwindle.

Miller’s legislation is called the Local Jobs for America Act, and he says the bill would create or save up to 1 million full-time, good-paying jobs. These include about a quarter million jobs in education, and 750,000 other jobs providing services that range from public safety to child care. Nearly all of the money for these jobs—about $100 billion—would be funneled through state and local governments, through procedures designed to minimize administrative costs.

Miller’s staff members held briefings about the bill with activists before the legislation was introduced, where they took pains to distinguish this bill from previous public sector job-funding efforts, such as the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of the 1970s. These jobs, they maintain, would not be temporary, make-work positions, and many, if not most, of the jobs would either be expansions of existing programs or restorations of cuts made because of the recession.

In that respect, the legislation addresses the fundamental inadequacy of last year’s Recovery Act bill in compensating for the spending cuts that state and local governments did even as those funds were flowing out to states and localities. Do the math: According to Recovery.gov, a total of $194.9 billion in Recovery Act funds have been spent, of which $81.6 billion was in contracts, grants and loans and $113.3 billion was in entitlements to individuals. But the expected state budget shortfalls for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years is expected to total $375 billion. Add to that projection the $110 billion budget gap states had to close in their 2009 fiscal year and that nearly equals the entire spending portion of the Recovery Act. And that does not include the billions more local governments have cut to balance their budgets.

To close these budget gaps, state and local governments have shed a combined total of 192,000 jobs since August 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Miller bill has the backing of the Jobs for America Now, coalition, which includes Campaign for America’s Future and about 60 other grassroots progressive organizations. Alan Charney, campaign manager of Jobs for America Now, issued the following statement:
 

“Besides passing health care reform, the most important thing Congress can do right now is to enact legislation that addresses the unemployment crisis in this country. We know that the economy remains weak and the private sector cannot generate enough jobs to put us on a safe and sure path to recovery. With this legislation, Congress is finally taking action to create jobs. We thank Chairman Miller for introducing legislation that will directly fund one million jobs. This is an important step to putting our country back to work.”

But it’s only one step. The Miller bill’s virtue of focusing on solid jobs (most of which would come with health and other benefits and in many cases would be union positions) does not address the needs of younger and lesser-skilled workers—the unemployment rate among people with only a high-school diploma is 10.5 percent, for example—or African Americans (15.8 percent unemployment) and Hispanics (12.4 percent). Miller’s bill should be complemented with a job-creation effort targeted for these populations; a well-funded green jobs initiative that would put people to work on making public facilities and homes more energy-efficient would be one approach.

But Miller deserves credit for introducing legislation that at least elevates the jobs conversation where it should be, at a time when 15 million Americans, and especially the 6.1 million who have been out of work for more than six months, can’t afford to wait for the ephemeral promise of a private sector revival.

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