Three Professors Call for President Obama to Implement a National Jobs Program
By Alan A. Aja, William Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton
In the late 1970s, after nearly a decade of rising unemployment rates and high inflation, Congress passed the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act, better known as the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978. Signed into law by President Carter, the act empowered the federal government to spend proactively to increase consumer demand, with the ultimate goal of full employment for every able American. A lesser-known provision of the act, however, noted that if the private sector failed to respond adequately, the public sector would take responsibility for providing the missing work.
More than 30 years later, the United States sits at the supposed edges of the “Great Recession,” triggered by the housing crisis of 2007. Despite claims of economic recovery, mass long-term unemployment remains high for skilled and unskilled alike, with African Americans and Latinos bearing a disproportionate burden. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the black and Latino unemployment rate for January 2013 was estimated at 13.8% and 9.7% respectively, compared to 7.0% for whites and the overall national rate of 7.9%. This comes amidst a barrage of reports underscoring the economic fall-out of the last decade: homelessness is at an all-time high in many U.S. urban centers, wages on average are the lowest they’ve been on record, and income and wealth disparities have widened to levels they reached during the Great Depression. To add insult to injury, corporate profits continue to soar, and the wealthiest top one percent of earners, those earning above $1 million, receive about one-third of the entire federal asset promoting budget in the form of tax subsidies and savings, while the bottom 60 percent of earners receive only five percent.
Despite these blatant inequities, there is no current discussion in Washington DC over a basic right to employment, nor has Congress nor the president raised the possibility of actually implementing a national policy based on the national law (Humphrey-Hawkins Act) that empowered them to do so. Instead, President Obama and Democratic members of Congress have succumbed to a Tea Party driven narrative that deficit reduction, or cutting spending, will revitalize the economy and lessen the national debt. This formula, known as “austerity economics,” involves cutting spending on essential social safety nets and public services, while raising taxes on the working poor and middle class to pay back creditors. But if we’ve learned anything from recent events in Europe, “austerity economics” yields disastrous consequences, plunging countries into worsening unemployment, record poverty rates and growing civil unrest. More job loss means less tax revenue for the essential public services families and businesses depend on to thrive. Quite frankly, the U.S. cannot afford to follow suit.
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