Monday, October 15, 2012

End This Jobs Crisis Now!

If I held public office right now, this is the speech I would make over and over again. I would stand on every soapbox that would have me delivering this message. And I would probably be ignored or marginalized.

"The official unemployment rate is nearly double what used to be considered normal just a few short years ago. And that official rate does not even include millions of underemployed and long term unemployed Americans. Years after the financial crisis, employment in this country is still deeply depressed. Not only does this mean untold hardship for millions of unemployed Americans and their families, but it is also causing permanent damage to our economy since long term unemployment damages the skills and earning power of workers forever. Given this stark reality, it is unconscionable that the leadership of this country is not doing everything in its power to end this jobs crisis now.

"The saying goes that those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it. If that's true, a lot of politicians in Washington don't know their American history. We have been through this before. A financial crisis destabilizing the real economy causing a collapse in spending, investment and employment is exactly what happened in the Great Depression. We also know what finally got the country out of the Great Depression. It was the massive effort to prepare this country to fight the Second World War that pulled us out of long term economic malaise. The war effort made it so there was enough work to go around for everyone. 

"This time, we made an effort to deal with the Great Recession early on called the Recovery Act. We came together and starting putting people back to work. And guess what? It's not popular to say this, but it worked. We went from job losses to job gains, from a shrinking economy to a growing economy, from a tanking stock market to a recovered stock market. We've recovered faster than our allies in the UK and Europe, and our recovery is going faster than comparable examples from other countries as well as our own in the past century. 

"The only problem is, the Recovery Act wasn't big enough or sustained enough to finish the job. Now look, this isn't too complicated. When the fire department doesn't have enough hoses to put out a fire completely, they don't just give up and look for an alternative to water. They call for more trucks and helicopters with more hoses until the job is done! That's how ordinary folks deal with an emergency. They roll up their sleeves and keep working at it. They use the best knowledge they have to fix it. Only in Washington do you see people throw up their hands and start working on other problems while the house is still on fire. We can do better. We must do better.

"We have got to put people back to work. That's the number one thing. Ask any business owner out there about what's stopping them from hiring or adding hours or making new investments and they'll tell you, they just don't see the customers. That's not just me talking, that's every survey that's been done - they all show business owners are waiting until they get all their customers back before they start hiring seriously and making big investments again. But a customer is just another word for a worker. More workers means more customers. More unemployment means less customers. The more people we put back to work, the more customers businesses will have which means they'll hire more too.

"But maybe your saying to yourself, a world war isn't around the corner, nor would we ever want it to be, so there just isn't anything we can all come together to work on. I am not suggesting, as Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has said facetiously, that we should waste a bunch of money on a military buildup to combat a fictionalized alien menace. But the truth is, we have plenty to do, and there are plenty of jobs to put people back to work doing. Let's start with the low hanging fruit. Right now, this country has fewer firefighters, police officers and teachers than it had before the financial crisis, even though crime hasn't gone down, fires haven't stopped, and there's even more kids looking for an education. So let's rehire firefighters, rehire police officers, rehire great teachers and then some. Public safety and education are important, let's make it a priority again.

"Second, we have a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure. One fourth of all American bridges carry more traffic than their intended capacity or are badly in need of repair. One third of all American roads are in substandard condition. 4,095 American dams are at risk of failure. That number has doubled in the past fifteen years. American sewer systems leak more than a trillion gallons of untreated sewage every single year due to decay and disrepair. We spend more than $50 billion each year just cleaning up that sewage. Why don't we take that money and spend it rebuilding these public systems that are the backbone of our economy and put the unemployed to work doing it? And interest rates are so low right now, it's actually a really cheap investment with a high rate of return since we need this infrastructure in order to function effectively.

"And lastly, we need a revolution in the way we produce and consume energy. Our foreign policy is dominated by concerns about our foreign oil supply. American agriculture is unsustainably dependent on artificially cheap fossil fuels. The burning fossil fuels is poisoning our environment leading to adverse health effects for millions of American families and destroying livelihoods along coastlines every time there's an oil spill. Not to mention that the pollution is destabilizing the climate, causing extreme weather events and further endangering food supply with droughts. A world war might not be around the corner, thank God, but we have a huge project ahead of us, and that is reinventing our energy economy to run on the clean, renewable and increasingly cheap energy sources of the future. We have millions of people unemployed and a massive project to take on the 21st century's biggest challenges just waiting to get started. Problem, meet solution."

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