Conference Calls For Bold Approaches To The Jobs Emergency

Derek Pugh

Down with the deficit rhetoric; it’s time for a bold approach that addresses our true crisis: a stagnant economy coupled with high unemployment.

On Tuesday, progressives gathered at the Roosevelt Institute’s first jobs conference, “A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency,” to offer a strategy towards economic equality and growth.

Alan Blinder, economist and columnist for The Wall Street Journal, asked the audience, “What’s a nice economy like you doing in a place like this?” Our three-year “recovery” period has been lackluster at best, each month only producing an annual average of 2 percent economic growth. And according to the Hamilton Project, we won’t reach a full recovery until 2023. This translates into a 14-year recovery period – in other words, 11 more years of hardship for the average American family.

All the conference panelists agreed that conventional economic policy has failed and actions by the Federal Reserve have yet to spur real growth. We need “fiscal policy over monetary policy” in the form of a stimulus, said Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute.

Additionally, our government must pursue new approaches that keep our Titanic of an economy afloat and create good jobs. Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said “Not to argue against stimulus, but there are a lot of tools in the toolbox.”

Alternative solutions proposed by panelists included a New Deal-style job strategy, reforming our trade policies, a “Marshall Plan” for America, and investments in public transportation. For example, according to Maya Wiley at the Center for Social Inclusion, if we took “half of our highway dollars and invested it in public transit we would create 1.1 million jobs.”

Since 2009, the government has reformed many policy areas but hasn’t touched trade. This is counterproductive to our entire recovery. Addressing currency manipulation and trade deficits, currently at a record high and costing the U.S. about $1 billion a day, would facilitate growth. Had there been no rise in trade deficits since the recovery, our gross domestic product would have been 6 percent higher, said Alan Tonelson at the U.S. Business Industry and Council. He reminded the audience that “by definition, subtract from growth and therefore you subtract from job creation.”

Our trade policy is not only costing us jobs, but good paying ones in the manufacturing sector. The price of trade policy failure is staggering.

These are only a few of the progressive solutions that would produce real results for the majority of Americans in a time of economic emergency. Yet politics and party lines continually trump people and policy. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has one possible solution: “We’ve got to end the filibuster.”

For his colleagues afraid of losing the ability to filibuster if there is a shift in the balance of power, Harkin would like them to keep in mind that “nine out of 10 times, it’s been used to block progressive legislation.”

It will take a mix of progressive policies to fix our economic woes, political gridlock and growing inequality. The pillars of the progressive approach – repeal the sequester, fully implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, fix our crumbling infrastructure, close tax loopholes, end the filibuster, raise the minimum wage, raise revenue from the highest incomes, strengthen workers rights, investments in education and our green economy – could move our nation from a plutocracy and back into a true democracy.

“Our first mission is about jobs,” said Jeff Madrick, director of the Roosevelt’s Rediscovering Government Initiative. He added that “if we can only talk about ideas that Congress can pass, we should not have a conversation at all.”

Relying solely on the legislative process is not sufficient. Progressives must continue to build momentum for good jobs by putting pressure on employers and elected officials through protests, strikes and petitions.

Polls already show that the majority of America backs progressive policies. Austerity is not the best method for addressing the deficit. During the keynote address, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., put this myth to rest by saying, “The best way to reduce the deficit is get people back to work.” She ended by calling upon progressives “to be bold and unapologetic.”

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