Local Jobs For America Act Is Back

Isaiah J. Poole

One development on the jobs front that received far less attention than it deserved was California Rep. George Miller’s reintroduction last week of his “Local Jobs for America Act,” a proposal that we vigorously supported and that received the backing of more than 300 organizations when it was first reintroduced two years ago.

If this bill had been enacted by the previous Congress, funding would have been available to prevent the loss of 315,000 state and local government jobs that have been erased since last October. the start of the 2011 fiscal year. These jobs are in the areas that the Local Jobs for America Act targets: teachers, first responders, health care workers, social service agency workers and other critical service providers.

When Friday’s unemployment report noted that anemic private-sector job growth was totally negated by cuts in the state and local government workforce, resulting in a net gain of zero jobs for the month, Miller pointed out the folly of “starving the economic recovery” rather than using federal resources to stoke it.

“We have tried austerity for eight months now and it has failed to revive the economy. The only way to tackle our economic problems, including reducing the deficit and our debt, is to create jobs immediately,” he said in a statement. “When Americans are back to work the economy is growing, the deficit is shrinking and America is getting stronger.”

The Miller bill is similar to the “Emergency Jobs To Restore The American Dream” bill introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky. The Local Jobs For America legislation includes $37.5 billion in aid to local governments, plus an additional $24 billion for school-related spending.

One writer who has called attention to the bill is The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen:

Layoffs at the state and local level were mitigated in 2009 by the Recovery Act, which saved thousands of jobs that would have otherwise been eliminated. Those funds have since been exhausted, and the public sector is back to making severe layoffs. This serves as a significant — and easily preventable — drag on the economy. It’s why David Leonhardt recently described as “an unforced economic error” — with all of the problems we can’t control, this is one problem we know exactly how to prevent.

And yet, as Benen goes on to note, the Republican leadership in the House shows no sign of allowing the Local Jobs for America Act to even get out of committee, their opposition to any federal initiative that helps prevent layoffs of good public employees providing vital public services is so absolute. The tea party conservatives have so poisoned the policy discussion around jobs that The Hill reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders won’t even use the word “stimulus.”

But if the “s”-word is now a political obscenity, how much more obscene is it that we are allowing hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs disappear, simply to satisfy the bloodlust of the adherents of a failed ideology?

As I pointed out earlier today, one measurement of the boldness of President Obama’s jobs agenda this week will be whether he directly takes on state and local government layoffs and asks Congress to take action similar to what is proposed in the Miller and Schakowski bills. Conservatives will howl, but then will have to explain to their constituents why fewer teachers in the classroom, fewer cops on the beat and fewer public workers doing the other basic tasks that keep communities functioning is what we really need to rebuild our economy.

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