By Charlie Williams
The January jobs report showed solid growth in private-sector payroll for the first time in several years. We have had unambiguously positive employment growth, according to a Feb. 3 Yahoo! Finance article by Daniel Gross. The economy added 243,000 payroll jobs in January and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent. That trend is reflected in the sustained private-sector job growth figures over the past 23 consecutive months.
Even with this good news of shrinking unemployment figures, we need to continue on the path toward job growth if this trend is to continue. President Obama warned Congress in his State of the Union address that the basic American promise is at risk if Congress does not act. The president spoke of the growing economic inequality American workers are facing today, which hinders economic recovery efforts. He urged Congress to do more to preserve the basic American dream, which was built and flourished on a thriving middle class.
It has become quite obvious over these past few years that the American middle class is at risk, and income inequality is one of the biggest threats. Attacks on union workers by city, state and federal lawmakers and rhetoric of would-be presidential candidates are prime examples of the cause of middle-class decline.
Workers are being blamed for most of our economic woes. Be it educators, firefighters, police or factory workers who want to be represented by a union, the war on private and public-sector workers does nothing to help our economic recovery efforts. Depriving workers of livable wages and benefits while piling on profits and tax cuts for the wealthy is a formula for a failed economy. Workers didn’t cause our economy to go belly up; it was greedy, powerful Wall Street types that caused our economy to crash, and sadly we rewarded them with huge amounts of our tax dollars to recover their losses.
Many of the same politicians in office today are the very ones who helped Wall Street and the past administration destroy our economy. The last two Bush years showed an alarming decline in employment numbers. High unemployment figures under Bush continued right into the first month Obama took office, with 750,000 losing their jobs. Fortunately, that trend started to reverse under President Obama’s leadership in only four short months after taking office, and for the most part has continued in that direction ever since. Over the past 23 months, we have witnessed solid job growth, though much is yet to be done in order to continue that trend.
The jobs bill that Obama sent to Congress is a good start but will likely never be adopted by the House or even taken up by Republican committee chairs. Yet there is hope that some aspects of the bill will be adopted, such as a business tax reform provision and ending the Bush tax cuts for the super wealthy, as Congress originally promised. The president has just called for business tax reform and Congress has approved the payroll tax cut extension he requested. Congressional Republicans had previously demanded budget cuts as a condition of their support for the payroll tax cut extension, but relented and threw their support for the extension without conditions. That is a good start, but there is still a long way to go.
New home sales are rebounding yet bank foreclosures continue to mount up for current homeowners. Progress toward curtailing home foreclosures remains in doubt, though Congress must address that issue and provide help to struggling homeowners who are in trouble as home prices devalue and markets shrink. If Congress can bail out the big banks and Wall Street, it should bail out homeowners. That would do far more toward a true rebound of the economy, and that would be good news for homeowners and businesses alike.
New homes and reselling of existing homes mean new appliances, new furnishings for the home and all the things that make a home livable. That translates to more job opportunities for the millions now unemployed, just like the bailout of our auto industry, which provided hundreds of thousands of new jobs for unemployed auto workers. It also added many thousands of jobs to workers who manufacture parts for those autos. Bailing out Wall Street and the big banks did little to nothing toward stimulating job growth, while government investment in saving the auto industry worked very well.
America is at the crossroads of continuing to move forward or going in reverse again with more and more budget cuts that lead to growing unemployment lines, further crippling any hope for economic recovery. The Republican-led Congress promised in the 2010 election that if elected, job growth would be their No. 1 goal, yet no jobs bill has even been introduced from that side of the aisle. The job market is indeed growing, yet it still needs congressional attention and now is the time to put up or shut up. American voters will be watching, and they do remember campaign promises—especially on Election Day.
Charlie Williams is chairman, Alliance for Retired Americans Field Mobilization Committee, and former Midwest states political director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union.