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What Economic Recovery? | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

What Economic Recovery?

Isn't it interesting that a few small percentage points here and there--third-quarter GDP showed an annual growth rate of 8.2 percent and monthly unemployment dropped from 6.1 percent to 6 percent--produces such euphoria about the country's economic upturn?

Before trumpeting this "boom," the Bush Administration and its crony pundits should pay attention to the real state of the economy--where nine million people are out of work, wages and salaries are stagnant or down, health care costs have increased to staggering double digit rates, retirement savings have been ravaged by the stock market crash, school budgets are taking severe hits, tuitions at public universities are http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0811/p01s03-ussc.html ">soaring and personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high.

Headlines like "Bloom is on the Economy," (The New York Times, 11/8) or "Tough Times Over?" (Washington Post, 11/9) seem foolish, even mean-spirited, when families, communities and whole states are struggling to survive. Consider that in Bush's home state of Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle, 54,000 children have been dropped from the federal-state health insurance program due to budget cuts. Texas, and other states, are also cutting back on subsidies for healthcare, further increasing the number of people with no coverage--now conservatively estimated at 43 million, with their numbers rapidly increasing. And paying for health insurance is becoming a problem for more than just people living on low or fixed-incomes, with many hospitals and neighborhood clinics saying that middle-class people are now joining the poor in seeking their care.

There are more Americans living in poverty now than there were in 1965. Over thirteen million of them are children. (The US has the worst child poverty rate of all the world's industrialized countries.) Last year alone, another 1.7 million Americans slipped below the poverty line, bringing the total to 34.6 million, one in eight of the population, and up from 31.6 million in 2000. (See "Economic Fault Lines in America's States," AFL-CIO report).

And as Trudy Lieberman reported in our pages, the ranks of the hungry are also increasing. About 31 million are now considered to be "food insecure" (they literally do not know where their next meal is coming from.) Hunger is an epidemic in Ohio where, since Bush won there in the 2000 election, the state has lost one in six manufacturing jobs. And two million of the state's 11 million people used food charities last year, an increase of more than 18 percent from 2001. ("Long Queue at Drive-In Soup Kitchen," The Guardian, Julian Borger, November 3)

Economic realities on Main Street, not Wall Street haven't stopped the White House from trumpeting "mission accomplished" when it comes to our supposed economic recovery. Nor has it stopped the Administration's hucksters at the Heritage Foundation from using faulty numbers to "prove" that the Administration's tax cuts are working.

But, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the passage of the most recent round of tax cuts should have led to an economy that produces 306,000 jobs each month. That means that even in the last two months of purportedly "strong economic growth," which produced about 125,000 jobs per month, the economy has produced around 180,000 fewer jobs than the White House promised. And just to keep pace with population growth, the economy would need to produce 140,000 jobs each month.The real "bottom line," taking into account the 3.4 percent gain in population since March 2001, shows that the economy is 6.9 million jobs short of where it would be if payroll levels had remained steady. And, according to Treasury Secretary John Snow's own projection, Bush will end his term with the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression.

"The economic policies of the Bush Administration," economist Jeff Madrick , observes, "have been about as crude and destructive a cocktail of stimulants--lavish income and estate tax cuts for upper-income Americans, elimination of taxes on dividends, stepped-up military and homeland security spending--as we have ever seen. The result is short-term growth and long-term damage...the administration's policies will weaken the economy over time, fall particularly harshly on its working middle and low-income citizens, and fail to prepare the nation for a century of far more intense global competition."

"The test of our progress," President Franklin Roosevelt said some sixty-six years ago, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." But does this current President care that there are tens of millions in this country, many of them children, who have too little? And, if Bush does care, is it conceivable that he believes the best way to feed, clothe, educate and care for them is through tax-cuts whose main purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be the country that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," but, this Thanksgiving in America, we are perilously close.

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