More Than 500,000 Jobs Threatened By Congressional Inaction

Isaiah J. Poole

Two reports released in the past 24 hours paint a dire picture of the consequences of congressional inaction. In just two sectors of the economy, local government and low-income people in welfare-to-work programs, more than 500,000 jobs could be lost in the coming months if Congress continues to by stymied by right-wing obstruction of jobs spending.

Job losses related to local government cutbacks are documented in a report released today by the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Local government job losses in the current and next fiscal years will approach 500,000, with public safety, public works, public health, social services, and parks and recreation hardest hit by the cutbacks,” the report said. And for every 10 jobs lost by local governments, an additional three related private-sector jobs are imperiled, the report adds.

Many of these jobs could be saved by the Local Jobs for America Act, legislation that would invest $100 billion into state and local governments to protect the jobs of workers engaged in vital local services as well as create new jobs. But only a provision of the bill that would affect teaching positions has passed the House, and none of the bill’s provisions have gotten far in the Senate.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter and other elected officials spelled out the real-world impact of the failure to approve the Local Jobs for America Act. For Nutter, it meant that on a recent day he found himself in the morning touting a Recovery Act job-creating project in Philadelphia but later that afternoon announcing layoffs of city employees. “The American public is confused by these kinds of actions,” he said.

Ilene Lieberman, a Broward County, Fla., commissioner, said that her country government, serving an area where unemployment is 10.1 percent, is slashing jobs and programs to close a $109 million budget gap in a $1.1 billion budget. Some of those service cuts are clearly counterproductive, such as a decision to close public libraries two days a week. “If you need a job and don’t have a computer, where are you going to go?” she asked.

Meanwhile, thousands more jobs could be lost if Congress does not reverse course and reauthorize a program that subsidizes jobs for low-income people who might otherwise be on welfare, according to a paper by LaDonna Pavetti at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that was published Monday.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Fund was created as part of the Recovery Act economic stimulus program. But the program is set to expire on September 30, and the Senate has already rejected one attempt to extend the program.

“States are using funds from the TANF Emergency Fund to provide jobs to individuals least likely to find employment on their own: TANF recipients, the long-term unemployed, and low-income youth. These also are the individuals who are most likely to spend virtually all of the money they earn, thus making this an effective mechanism to stimulate the local economy,” Pavetti’s paper said.

So far, “officials in the 37 states (including the District of Columbia) operating these jobs programs estimate that by September, they will have placed more than 240,000 unemployed parents and their teenage children in subsidized jobs funded in whole or in part by the fund,” the paper said. If Congress does not act to continue the program, “tens of thousands of individuals participating in the programs will lose their jobs when the programs close.”

The irony of this particular program cut is that, as Arthur Delaney notes in a Huffington Post story today, the TANF Emergency Fund is an job-creation approach favored by conservatives. But, he reports, Senate Republicans now are not only using the it-will-increase-the-deficit argument but are also saying “it pays poor people not to work and that it represents a backdoor effort to undo welfare reform.”

That’s right: In the new right-wing Senate lexicon, paying people to work is paying people not to work.

Fortunately, the type of lunacy that seems to have overcome the right in Congress has not taken hold among the masses of unemployed people.

I asked Nutter if he has heard any objections from struggling families in Philadelphia to the idea of the federal government spending more money to stimulate the economy and put people back to work. “Are you serious?” he responded. “People need jobs. They want jobs. They want to get to work, and no one is thinking about [the deficit]. It is a fiction of those who want to have a political debate about something else that has more to do with the election than anything to do with putting Americans back to work.”

“This is not a question of the debt,” said Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., whose district includes Decatur. “We can handle [ending] these tax cuts for the wealthiest people, if we can stop subsidizing corporations for leaving overseas and taking jobs with them, if we stop the hemorrhaging and start investing in our manufacturers, in our cities and the people who work there … we will be a better nation for it and we will see a terrible price paid years down the road for letting our children down when they need us the absolute most.”

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