fresh voices from the front lines of change







Today’s new unemployment report contains no news, just decimal point changes. It tells us what we already know, that times are bad. The question is whether our great nation can rise to the challenge.

Unemployment remains unchanged at 9.5 percent, with 14.6 million people out of work. In July, we lost 202,000 jobs in the government sector as the census winds down, and we gained 71,000 jobs in the private sector. African American unemployment grew fractionally worse to 15.6 percent, and teenagers to 26.1 percent.

But the micro details don’t change the big picture. People are out of work and out of hope. Mortgages are underwater, savings are in the tank and fewer than half of grown-ups think their kids will be better off.

So what are we going to do about it? Our 200 year old democracy ended slavery and turned the Great Depression into the New Deal. Can we thrive in this century too?

We know what doesn’t work. Asset bubbles and trade deficits. Tax cuts and supply side economics. Shopping for cheap stuff made in China.

The House of Representatives new Make it in America initiative makes a conceptual break. It challenges conventional wisdom and brings us back to our industrial, productive past. The knowledge economy is good, as far as it goes — but a country still needs things. Cars, computers, pencils and iPods. If we don’t make those things ourselves, we have to pay someone else for them. Our deficit in goods dwarfs our surplus in services. During the eight years of the Bush administration, America accumulated a surplus of $755 billion in services — but a $5.9 trillion deficit in goods.

Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Manufacturing brings new wealth into the country and puts people to work in good, middle-class jobs. Every manufacturing job supports as many as four other jobs, as production workers buy meals, legal services and advertising from other sectors of the economy.

The House manufacturing strategy starts out with small steps. Last week the House passed the Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing and Export Assistance Act (H.R. 5156), which offers modest subsidies to help our exports of clean energy products compete with the subsidies of other countries. It passed the National Manufacturing Strategy Act (HR 4692), which would require the administration to develop an overall manufacturing strategy and update it regularly.

But at the same time, the House failed to pass the Investing in American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 5893), which eliminates tax breaks for companies that ship taxes overseas. Republicans were unified in opposition. Thus, our government continues to subsidize companies that move jobs offshore.

Small steps and setbacks in the House, likely death in the Senate … but at least Democrats are trying. Voters can see where Democrats want to go, and who’s stopping them.

In June, Barack Obama spelled out the challenge: [A]s we emerge from this recession, we can’t afford to return to the pre-crisis status quo. We can’t go back to an economy that was too dependent on bubbles and debt and financial speculation. We can’t accept economic growth that leaves the middle class owing more and making less. We have to build a new and stronger foundation for growth and prosperity.

Earlier this week speaking at the AFL-CIO, Obama reminded people that it took a decade to drive us into the ditch, and it will take that long to dig us out. “When you’re in a car and you want to go forward, you put it in “D.” You want to go back in the ditch, you put it on “R.”

We know what we need to do. Put people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Fix our potholed roads, our overcrowded schools and our bursting water mains. Create new infrastructure like wind turbines and solar cells. Lay the tracks for high speed rail, the 21st century parallel to the interstate highways of the 20th century and the transcontinental railroads of the 19th. And make the parts in America! Put us to work building our economy of the future, like our grandparents did for us.

Yes, it will cost money. But don’t worry, money is out there. Those top end Bush tax cuts are worth $43 billion annually. Restoring the estate tax for multi-millionaires brings in $50 billion. A financial transaction tax brings in $177 billion annually, and stabilizes our financial system to boot. Draw down our troops and rein in Pentagon procurements gives us another $100 billion every year for productive endeavors. That’s without even trying bold new sources of revenue. More progressive taxation at the top end. Confronting corporate power and redirecting subsidies that go to agriculture, oil and pharmaceutical giants. Ferreting out the rest of those tax subsidies to move production offshore. We can do this.

Stop counting votes in the Senate! Introduce the bill. Put it to a vote. Dare the Republicans to go on record against a jobs program like this.

Today’s news is unemployment figures. In November, there’s an election. Which way do we want to go? Back to Bush? Or working together to build a new foundation? Forget the micro data. Remember who we are.

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