The United States is in a continuing and severe jobs crisis. Our economy is growing at less than 2 percent per year, and growth is slowing. Official unemployment is 9.2 percent and rising—driven now by mass layoffs of teachers, first responders and other public employees. The real unemployment rate is almost twice as high—once labor market dropouts and involuntary part-time work are taken into account.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are real solutions to the jobs crisis, but real solutions require government action.
Yet Washington is inexplicably focused on measures that will make the situation worse—both in the short and long run. Our nation’s leaders are offering working people the choice between bad and worse policies. Instead of addressing our profound economic crisis, they are adding to it an unending series of fake political crises.
Real wages have been stagnant for three decades and are now falling. The housing market, the largest market of any kind in our country, continues its downward slide, driven by the collapse of an enormous bubble. Millions of American families have been or will be thrown out of their homes by banks, guaranteeing that this drag on our economy will continue for the foreseeable future. Our trade deficit keeps growing. We invest less and less in our nation’s infrastructure while unemployment in construction is nearly double the national average. Veterans return home and struggle to find work. Our education budgets at every level are shrinking, and fewer and fewer of us have adequate health insurance or a pension.
Republican congressional leaders have made their agenda crystal clear—paralyze the government and hold our economy hostage until a multitrillion-dollar ransom is paid to their contributors in the form of tax cuts for the wealthy and for multinational corporations. They will not rest until they have succeeded in dismantling the American government and the American Dream—so their wealthy contributors can be sure that their taxes will remain the lowest in the developed world for the remainder of their days.
Unfortunately, far too many Democrats have been either silent or complicit in the Republicans’ scheme. We expect Democrats at every level of government to stand tall for progressive principles, working families and the American labor movement. We need their leadership—not their excuses or apologies.
But this agenda has been clear for years. The congressional Republicans are doing nothing more than escalating the Bush agenda—using the disingenuous rhetoric of fiscal responsibility to transfer wealth to the rich, dismantle the social safety net and increase the deficit. If our country is going to have a bright and fair future, we need a completely different direction—toward a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy, driven by investment in our workforce and our infrastructure, and our public services.
There is no way to fund what we must do as a nation without bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarization of our foreign policy has proven to be a costly mistake. It is time to invest at home.
Our unfair and inadequate tax system is at the heart of what is wrong with our economy and our society. Our government gives away tax breaks to billionaires and corporations while letting our infrastructure deteriorate and cutting aid for heating oil for the poor. We cannot build a competitive economy, pay our bills as a nation or address out-of-control economic inequality until we adopt a fair system of taxation.
Instead, policymakers are obsessed with cutting government spending with a meat ax—heedless of the consequences for our economy or our compassion.
In an economy beset by mass unemployment, inadequate demand, tight credit and asset deflation, massive cuts in government spending will be disastrous—particularly cuts that cause layoffs or reduce Americans’ incomes, such as cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These deep cuts could easily catapult our economy straight into a double-dip recession, if not a Great Depression. And we run the risk of dragging the rest of the global economy down with us.
In an economy that runs chronic trade deficits of more than a half-trillion dollars a year and that has lost more than 50,000 manufacturing plants in the last 10 years, the last thing we should do is rush to pass more trade agreements built on the model that led to the hollowing out of U.S. manufacturing—like the Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements. And we need to reform our tax code to end the incentives and rewards for offshoring jobs—not lock in a corporate tax code that only taxes U.S. earnings, essentially inviting companies to move operations offshore and placing responsible employers at a disadvantage.
In an economy where tax revenues have hit a modern low of 14.9 percent of GDP and where the wealthy have seen the greatest income gains and the lowest tax rates since the Great Depression, there is absolutely no economic rationale for cutting tax rates or continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
In an economy where real wages have been falling for a generation, why would we go all out to silence workers, deprive them of basic workplace protections, defund the agencies that protect us, interfere with those who seek to enforce the laws and cozy up to foreign governments where workers are murdered with impunity when they try to organize?
Working people do not want a kinder, gentler or more reasonable version of the policies that caused the economic crisis, that dismantled the American Dream and that have undermined our democracy for a generation. We demand a completely different approach—we want jobs, prosperity, fairness and, most of all, a future for all of us.
Today, we must fight against the destructive ideas in play in Washington and in our state capitals. That is why the labor movement’s voice is clear—we oppose any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits—no matter where they come from and that includes the Oval Office. We need a tax code that asks the rich to pay their fair share.We oppose corporate tax reform that is merely “revenue neutral” amid calls for “shared sacrifice.” We oppose the Korea, Panama and the Colombia free trade agreements. And we will fight with every means we have against those who would take away the right to vote through a new generation of poll taxes and literacy tests.
But we cannot build a future by watering down bad ideas—or even by stopping them.Working people demand a politics of real solutions. Of good jobs—on the scale needed to make a difference. Of investment in our future—in our infrastructure, our health, our schools, our people. Of fair taxes and fair trade. And, most of all, a future where working people have a voice in our republic, in the workplace and the voting booth.
America wants to work, and we need a political system that will deliver on that urgent imperative.Today, real solutions are at hand, and in the months ahead, we are going to fight for them.
We will unite not only workers and our unions but a broad base of allies behind a comprehensive initiative that will invest in America, provide opportunity for all, ensure dignity through work and save our social safety net. We must build on and expand vital partnerships with women’s, civil rights and minority organizations, and environmental, immigration, low-income, senior and faith groups. We also will strive to build alliances with business where possible, such as the work we have done together with a wide range of business groups to support investment in our nation’s infrastructure.
We will promote a job creation agenda that will include direct federal investment as an alternative to tax cuts. A jobs agenda that will respond to the continuing high unemployment rates suffered by workers in the construction industry, the bleeding of jobs in the manufacturing sector, and the hemorrhaging of employment in the state and local government sectors. We will fight for:
- Maintaining income support and consumer spending, including extending the current federal extended benefits program for the unemployed, which expires in December;
- Rebuilding and modernizing critical national infrastructure to promote strong economic activity, including a robustly funded, multiyear Surface Transportation Act that expands our highway and bridge system and addresses the transit jobs crisis, and by creating an infrastructure bank that funds good jobs and helps rebuild our manufacturing base through standards and tools that will enhance the domestic supply chain.
- Enforcing our trade laws, fighting against China’s currency manipulation to help our manufacturing base recover, and renewing a robust, long-term Trade Adjustment Assistance Act ;
- Establishing a program of countercyclical assistance to create and stabilize jobs in state and local governments, including adequate federal aid and permanent programs of direct local job creation and federal Medicaid matching rates that reflect fluctuations in unemployment rates.
- Helping the unemployed and families threatened with the loss of their homes;
- Adopting a fair tax system, including an end to tax breaks for companies going offshore and a financial transaction tax that asks those who caused the financial crisis to help pay for its consequences;
- And for every good idea that creates jobs and helps us take on the great challenge of rebuilding the American Dream.
Most of all, this is a time when everyone who cares about our future must stand together. We must organize, and we must have vision. The labor movement calls upon all who see a future for America that is better than our past to join us. It is time not for compromise but for vision, not for downsizing our dreams, but for seizing our future.