In advance of the president’s jobs summit, economist Paul Krugman is finally calling for government job-creation.
"It’s time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration" writes Krugman. He says it "would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment."
That’s probably not what the Obama administration has in mind. They and Congress seem set instead on relying on the private sector and re-asserting Democrats’ fiscal conservative bona fides before next year’s vote.
Still, the broader reality is, what’s needed is more — way more than the private sector is likely to give Obama, and more than poorly-paying government jobs.
After all, poorly-paying jobs are what got us into this mess. As we all know by now, between 2000 and 2007, while productivity grew, the typical working household saw its income decline; decline so far that the only way the average worker could pay for a car, a house or a college education for the kids was to go into debt. The deadly mix of needy Americans and shameless lenders brought the US economy to the brink and we rode over.
Setting the lowest possible bar for government action and relying on the private sector has brought us here, to a situation in which stimulus or no stimulus, banks aren’t lending, mortgage reform isn’t happening, and food stamp use is at a record high. Twenty thousand people join the food stamp rolls every day according to a recent report. The program now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. That’s 36 million Americans.
Local data reviewed by Krugman’s own New York Times, reveals that the counties worst hit include the Bronx in New York, Philadelphia and some parts of Appalachia — where half of all residents need help.
The important, rather buried fact in the numbers is that food stamp use isn’t only up due to rising unemployment. Some 40 per cent of the families now on food stamps have "earned income." That figure was 25 percent just two years ago.
Not just unemployment, but low wages and shrinking working hours have brought Americans to the starvation point.
If the economy is stabilizing (as the Fed insists it is) it’s stabilizing at a frightful place. The rate of job losses is slowing, but huge numbers of working Americans are paid so little they can’t afford to eat and feed their families.
It’s not just jobs the nation needs, it’s jobs with justice, the sort government can create — not by thinking petty — but thinking big and raising a bar. The best thing that could happen at the president’s jobs summit is for Obama to declare a massive government jobs program paying genuinely living wages, and for him to demand the same of all those CEOS in the room. Tax payers shouldn’t be helping employers get away with paying workers starvation wages. We certainly shouldn’t be thanking them for creating more low-paying, "better than nothing" jobs.
Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.