Daily Digest - June 10: Abenomics Time

Jun 10, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Japan Is a Model, Not a Cautionary Tale (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks that we should be following Shinzo Abe's lead, because even as Japan's working age population shrinks, their G.D.P. is still growing respectably.

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Japan Is a Model, Not a Cautionary Tale (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks that we should be following Shinzo Abe's lead, because even as Japan's working age population shrinks, their G.D.P. is still growing respectably.

Student Advocates Back #DontDoubleMyRate Campaign, But Don't Support Obama's Proposal (HuffPo)

Tyler Kingkade writes that student groups, including the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, may be participating in the President's Twitter campaign on student loans, but they don't think his plan goes far enough. The variable rates make them understandably concerned.

The Big Shrug (NYT)

Paul Krugman worries that after a jobs report that he finds disappointing, policy makers are just not thinking about unemployment. We haven't reached "normal" yet, but you wouldn't know it if you asked them.

U.S. Is Still 10 Million Jobs Away From Normal (Bloomberg View)

Mark Whitehouse shares two numbers explaining Friday's jobs report: first, the employment-to-population ratio, which is the proportion of working-age people who have jobs, and second, the number of jobs that would take us back to pre-recession employment numbers.

Long-Term Jobless: Still a Bleak Picture (NYT)

Annie Lowrey suggests that the job market has mostly normalized for the short-term unemployed, but the long-term unemployed are facing a market that hasn't improved much. It's not because of a skills mismatch: employers are discriminating against them.

Austerity hampered job growth (Market Watch)

Heather Boushey looks at Friday's jobs report and thinks that the sequestration has slowed down the U.S. economy in a way that we just can't afford right now.

The jobs report was pretty solid. So why aren’t wages rising? (WaPo)

Neil Irwin argues that while we're slowly adding jobs, it's no surprise that wages aren't growing with employment, because growth is mostly in low-wage sectors. He thinks that until we are closer to full employment, there isn't much to be done here.

One way to help close the gender wage gap: raise the minimum wage (Washington Monthly)

Kathleen Grier suggests that President Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage, which is stuck in committee, would not just serve as stimulus for the economy but also as an attack on the wage gap. This is one way we could raise wages despite the unemployment rate.

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Bored by the Jobs Numbers? We Need a Bold Solution.

Jun 7, 2013

This morning's new jobs numbers contained few surprises, and given the mediocre, low-wage recovery the U.S. has experienced for the last few years, that's a problem. On Tuesday, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government initiative hosted "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency," a daylong conference that discussed how this crisis of prolonged unemployment and underemployment came about and how we might fix it.

This morning's new jobs numbers contained few surprises, and given the mediocre, low-wage recovery the U.S. has experienced for the last few years, that's a problem. On Tuesday, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government initiative hosted "A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency," a daylong conference that discussed how this crisis of prolonged unemployment and underemployment came about and how we might fix it. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Rediscovering Government Director Jeff Madrick gave Next New Deal readers a preview of the discussion earlier this week, and Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch noted that the focus was not just on more jobs, but on quality jobs: “jobs that provide decent pay and benefits and the flexibility to be able to take care of one’s family.”

The conference was covered on the Campaign for America’s Future blog, where Derek Pugh provided a comprehensive summary of the day. MarketWatch also published dueling op-eds in response to the conference, with panelist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute arguing that too much emphasis was placed on government and journalist Rex Nutting contending that the structural impediments to hiring that Furchtgott-Roth highlights have been around for ages -- and that in the end, we need government stimulus to create new jobs and increase demand.

Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin’s comments proved to be a highlight of the conference. Governor Raskin spoke on the lunch plenary, “Paving the Way for Good Jobs,” moderated by Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow Nona Willis Aronowitz. She discussed how she realized that most of the jobs being added to the economy are terrible after a visit to a local job fair. Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and Huffington Post all covered Raskin’s presence, and Reuters also noted that the stock market was jittery about what Raskin might say – perhaps more evidence of the “Jurassic Park problem” with Fed policy that Roosevelt Institute Mike Konczal recently pointed out.

Stay tuned for video from the event coming soon, and keep following the #jobsemergency conversation on Twitter!

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Daily Digest - June 7: Seeking Job Growth, Fair Wages and Benefits Included

Jun 7, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Why the Right is Wrong About Jobs (Market Watch)

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Why the Right is Wrong About Jobs (Market Watch)

Rex Nutting argues that the structural difficulties in hiring, like cost of labor, taxes, and (according to its detractors) Obamacare, don't explain the lack of job growth right now. The Keynesian model seems to make more sense: lack of demand, lack of new jobs.

Fix Bankrupt Student Loan Proposals (WaPo)

Katrina vanden Heuvel doesn't understand how legislators could fail to take action to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling. While the Fed gives discounted loans to the big banks, Congress can't seem to get around to helping students.

Fed Reports American Households Have Regained Ground Lost in the Recession (NYT)

Nelson Schwartz notes that things are looking up according to a new Fed report that shows the net worth of American households is higher than before the recession. But once those numbers are adjusted for inflation, the good news shrinks along with Americans' bank accounts.

When Patents Attack (NPR)

Ira Glass and the "This American Life" team look into the world of patent lawsuits, where companies use the vague language permitted by our patent system to make millions. The defendants include businesses like coffee shops, because offering wifi is patented.

New Report Shows How Walmart Forces Its Employees to Live on the Dole (MoJo)

Thomas Stackpole reports that we finally have data backing up the claim that Walmart lets taxpayers subsidize its operating costs. Walmart's 300 Wisconsin stores cost taxpayers $67.5 million per year in benefits to employees and their families.

Striking Workers Bring Bangladesh Safety Demand to Walmart Headquarters (The Nation)

Josh Eidelson continues his coverage of the OUR Walmart strikes leading up to the company's shareholder meeting today. The strikers emphasize Walmart's unwillingness to join the union-backed safety agreement in Bangladesh despite the deaths at Rana Plaza.

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek Leads the Cheapest, Happiest Company in the World (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Brad Stone says that Costco is proof that even discount retailers can be profitable while providing good jobs with fair wages and benefits. As we discuss raising the minimum wage and Walmart workers strike, Costco's model becomes even more important.

Young, Black, Gifted and Underemployed (The Root)

Edward Wyckoff Williams reminds us that some things aren't changing: unemployment and underemployment are dramatically higher for young people of color. Even highly educated African American young people find it disproportionately hard to find work.

 

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Daily Digest - June 6: Time to Stop Talking Deficit

Jun 6, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Conference Calls For Bold Approaches To The Jobs Emergency (Campaign for America's Future)

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Conference Calls For Bold Approaches To The Jobs Emergency (Campaign for America's Future)

Derek Pugh reports on the Roosevelt Institute's jobs conference on Tuesday, which pointed at unemployment rather than deficits as the real economic crisis. Panelists offered numerous possible solutions, including New Deal-style job strategies, reformed trade policies, and expansion of public transit.

U.S. Worker Productivity Increases as Hourly Compensation Drops (LA Times)

Alejandro Lazo reports that the first quarter of 2013 showed employers are getting more out of workers than last year but paying them less. Meanwhile, employers are monitoring everything from website visits to bathroom trips to figure out what else they can deduct.

Now is the Time to be an Infrastructure Hawk, not a Deficit Hawk (WaPo)

Ezra Klein thinks that we need to prioritze fixing our crumbling infrastructure and creating jobs over worrying about the deficit. Besides, the infrastructure work needs to be done eventually, so if we put it off we're just creating another deficit for future generations.

Your Student Loan isn’t Really a Loan (Salon)

David Dayen argues that student loans are less like money borrowed at interest and closer to a form of indentured servitude. You can refinance a mortgage, or discharge it in bankruptcy, but student loans are forever.

Does a State Have the Right to Self-Destruct? (The Atlantic)

Garrett Epps questions whether a state is still a state under the federal Constitution if its government can't tax. Colorado law prevents the legislature from raising taxes, and the state is struggling as a result.

Dodd-Frank Act: After 3 Years, a Long To-Do List (USA Today)

Kevin McCoy writes on the delayed process of writing the 398 rules of the Dodd-Frank Act. There have been 279 deadlines so far, and nearly 63 percent of those have been missed -- a rate that only the law’s opponents can be happy with.

Denying a Head Start in Washington State (Bill Moyers)

Greg Kaufmann examines the effects of sequestration by looking at Head Start in Washington, which reaches only 38 percent of eligible children and now has to make cuts. Programs are using shorter school days to make their budget, or ending the school year early.

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Daily Digest - June 5: Visiting the Bad Job Fair

Jun 5, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Fed’s Raskin Bemoans Quality of New Jobs (WSJ)

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Fed’s Raskin Bemoans Quality of New Jobs (WSJ)

Eric Morath and Victoria McGrane report that Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin, a panelist at yesterday's Roosevelt Institute conference, said she became concerned about the kinds of jobs being created when she attended a job fair. The disconnect she's seeing is one where the jobs don't require the skills and education of the unemployed.

Rich Countries Are Creating More Jobs By Creating Worse Jobs (The Atlantic)

Tim Fernholz says that bad jobs (as measured by wages, benefits, and hours worked) make up the bulk of the jobs being created in advanced economies internationally. No surprise, the lack of good jobs is leading to a shrinking middle class.

White House Threatens to Veto Spending Plans Unless Broader Budget Deal Reached (WaPo)

Lori Montgomery writes that unless the House comes up with a budget plan that includes eliminating sequestration and sufficient stimulus to kick-start the economy, the administration is threatening to veto every single spending bill that crosses the president's desk.

AIG, Prudential Financial, and GE Capital Receive Preliminary Designation as "Systemically Important" Financial Institutions (Slate)

Matt Yglesias explains why these firms, which aren't really banks, should still be subject to higher scrutiny under Dodd-Frank. These companies hold bank risks, and are the reason regulating bank size isn't enough when we consider "Too Big To Fail."

Price-Gouging Cable Companies are our Latter-Day Robber Barons (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore accuses cable companies of creating an environment where a near-essential service is inaccessible to many households due to cost. Worse, no one in Washington is even trying to regulate this industry, allowing the oligopolies to set whatever prices they like.

From Lottery to Oligopoly in Wireless Spectrum (NYT)

Eduardo Porter suggests that as the F.C.C. auctions off the last chunk of the spectrum preferred by wireless companies, it should place limits on what companies can buy in order to encourage competition.

Detroit’s embarrassing new get-out-of-debt scheme (Salon)

Jillian Steinhauer writes that no government should have to sell off cultural artifacts to get out of debt, but the Emergency Manager of Detroit disagrees and is having the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts appraised. Would he suggest Greece slap a price tag on the Acropolis?

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Daily Digest - June 4: We Haven't Recovered Yet

Jun 4, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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We Must Not Accept This Economic 'New Normal' (The Guardian)

Senator Bernie Sanders refuses to accept this "recovery" as good enough. With so many Americans still suffering, he wants to see new jobs programs, corporate tax reform, and other steps to reduce the ever-growing wealth gap.

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We Must Not Accept This Economic 'New Normal' (The Guardian)

Senator Bernie Sanders refuses to accept this "recovery" as good enough. With so many Americans still suffering, he wants to see new jobs programs, corporate tax reform, and other steps to reduce the ever-growing wealth gap.

Four Trends in the Recovery, Two of Which You Don’t See Enough (On The Economy)

Jared Bernstein thinks the booming stock market is just one piece of the economic puzzle that only affects the wealthy. Statistics that have more bearing on middle-class households, like weekly earnings and median household income, aren't looking so good.

Student Loan Debt Is a Beast. Here Are Elizabeth Warren's, President Obama's, and the GOP's Plans to Fix It. (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger, Maggie Severns, and Brett Brownell explain seven plans, four long-term and three short-term, to handle the question of student loan interest rates. One thing they don't mention: none of these plans have any effect on private loans.

  • Roosevelt Take: The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's policy report "A New Deal For Students" lays out concrete and innovative policy solutions from students to solve the student debt crisis.

How Did Work-Life Balance in the U.S. Get So Awful? (The Atlantic)

Derek Thompson examines why measures of leisure time in the U.S. are not so clear-cut: recently, educational achievement has come to determine your access to leisure. The more educated you are, the less time off you have.

E-Verify is Supposed to Stop Undocumented Employment. It Could Also Harm Legal Workers. (WaPo)

Timothy Lee is concerned for the people who get rejected by E-Verify despite authorization to work. While they have an appeals process, it is complex and time-consuming, and employers aren’t keeping them on the job, even though they are supposed to.

Surpluses Help, but Fiscal Woes for States Go On (NYT)

Michael Cooper and Mary Williams Wash write that while states are seeing budget surpluses, between pension plans, health care costs, and other recession cuts, those surpluses are practically already spent.

Frank Lautenberg, the Last of the New Deal Liberals (The Nation)

John Nichols's obituary of Senator Lautenberg emphasizes that he was the last senator to benefit from New Deal programs in his youth. The senator worked in the legacy of Roosevelt to the end, with such legislation as the "21st Century WPA Act.”

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The Jobs Emergency

Jun 3, 2013Jeff Madrick

On Tuesday, June 4th, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government initiative will host A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency, a daylong conference exploring the roles of government, policy, and activism in addressing historic levels of unemployment and economic misery.

On Tuesday, June 4th, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government initiative will host A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency, a daylong conference exploring the roles of government, policy, and activism in addressing historic levels of unemployment and economic misery.

A lot is said about the jobs crisis in America, but not enough. We have a full-fledged jobs emergency and jobs are the nation’s number 1 problem. We at the Roosevelt Institute are holding a full-day jobs conference in Washington on Tuesday, June 4th to address a wide range of solutions to the economy’s alarming inability to create adequate jobs. The conference is sponsored by Bernard Schwartz, who has strongly encouraged this focus at Rediscovering Government and agrees that jobs are America’s major concern. We hope to shift the political agenda by examining what this emergency is, where it came from, and how we might solve it.

The unemployment rate is the first line of evidence of our emergency but not the most disturbing. At 7.5 percent, it has dropped roughly two and a half percent percentage points since its height, but remains far from full employment four years after the Great Recession ended. As many now know, if we include part-time workers who want full-time jobs and discouraged workers, the unemployment rate is roughly 14 percent. In another analysis, between 2007 and 2009, one out of six workers lost a job.

Of greatest concern is the related employment-to-population ratio, which measures the proportion of the country’s working-age population that is employed. It is down to 58 percent from 63 percent. This shows that the only reason the unemployment rate is as low as it is has been is because people are dropping out of the labor force. Recent surveys also show that sharp decline in re-employment rates.  

Then there is long-term unemployment, those out of work for six months or more, which is still millions of workers above its levels before the recession. New evidence shows that the long-term unemployed are “scarred.” They have measurably more difficulty getting new jobs than those out of work for a shorter time.

The emergency worsens because we not creating enough jobs to replace those lost, and the jobs being created are low wage or do not include retirement and healthcare benefits. Two of our conference participants, Annette Bernhardt and John Schmitt, have done original research on these issues. Their findings are alarming.

And what happens even when you get a new job? Researchers find that those displaced now experience sharp declines in wages over twenty years even when re-employed.

One reason I call this an emergency is that the two prior recessions and recoveries were also not creating jobs the way the U.S. once did. Job gains were late in coming in the economic recoveries after the recessions of 1990-1991 and 2001. Again, the jobs being created don’t match those that existed before. Today, the typical male earns less after inflation than he did in 1969. The typical household earns less than in 1999.

And what should worry us most is what is happening to the young.  Employment-to-population ratios for teenagers and young adults have collapsed. This is a social explosion waiting to happen. Early job experiences influence future job outcomes.

So what are we to do? Economists almost universally call for more college attendance. But is that remotely enough? Infrastructure investment has rarely been more appropriate, but will the U.S. spend enough? What about the minimum wage, job standards, local activism, job training? Has Wall Street’s emphasis on short-term corporate profits and the attraction of capital to trading profits made matters much worse? Is globalization the source of most of these troubles?

Finally, are we simply growing too slowly? Washington gives us austerity economics when we clearly need more stimulus. How does one move this mountain of misinformation and uninformed ideology? Full-throated fiscal stimulus might well be an answer that gets us closer to full employment.

We have always found economists who argue there is a structural employment problem, claiming that we don’t have the workers who qualify for the jobs. The evidence for this is thin at best. We will discuss this issue as well.

This jobs emergency now requires a full-court press. That is why we have seven different panels to address these questions and a host of possible solutions.

Some insist we should talk mostly about what is politically practical. If we limited ourselves to what Congress might do, we’d have little to talk about. We must change their priorities. Jobs must be number one, but the nation cannot seem to admit that to itself.

We need, as one of my colleagues puts it, a job-creating president and a job-creating Congress. Jobs should be on everyone’s lips. Many talk narrowly about how only business creates jobs, yet corporate profits are enormous and job creation lags. I hope that with this conference, we will begin to pave the way to a far broader job-creating political agenda for 2014 and 2016.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

 

Emergency light image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - May 28: Global Economy, Global Loopholes

May 28, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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Globalisation isn't just about profits. It's about taxes too (The Guardian)

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Globalisation isn't just about profits. It's about taxes too (The Guardian)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Joseph Stiglitz argues that in today's global economy, all countries suffer when major corporations take advantage of tax loopholes, and that reform is needed so that corporations pay a fair income tax rate internationally.

The Facts (Captive Audience)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford corrects what Comcast's Executive Vice President told the U.S. Conference of Mayors about how great high-speed Internet access is in the U.S. If the mayors believed him, they must not look at what household Internet costs in their cities.

See How Citigroup Wrote a Bill So It Could Get a Bailout (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger spoke to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal about Citigroup's attempt to gut the "push-out rule," which would forbid banks from trading certain derivatives. This prevents banks from protecting risky trades with FDIC insurance, and Konczal says we need it "more than ever."

This Week in Poverty: Homeowners Take the Foreclosure Fight to the DOJ (The Nation)

Greg Kaufmann spoke to activists involved in protests last week to fight illegal foreclosures and push for principal reductions for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. These newly minted reformers first fought to keep their own homes; now they’re fighting for others.

  • Roosevelt Take: The jobs crisis hasn't helped people struggling to keep their homes. Roosevelt Fellows and other distinguished guests will discuss A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency on June 4th.

America is the only rich country that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation or holidays (WaPo)

In honor of Memorial Day, Ezra Klein reminds us that in the U.S., poorer workers are less likely to have any paid time off, and if they do, they get less. Compared to European countries' paid time off guarantees, yesterday's barbeques seem a little less exciting.

Let Them Make Their Own Jobs (NYT)

Nancy Folbre considers that statement to be the new "let them eat cake," because entrepreneurs and start-ups struggle as much as established businesses with the lack of demand. Creating your own job doesn’t guarantee you've created any income for yourself.

The Falling-Bridge Lesson: The U.S. Infrastructure Failure Is Still Totally Inexcusable (The Atlantic)

Matt Thompson thinks the bridge that collapsed near Seattle last week needs to be a wake-up call to increase spending on infrastructure. Maybe some members of Congress will take family road trips this summer and notice how the roads just end at that big blue space on their map now.

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Daily Digest - May 22: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?

May 22, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

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The Case for Raising the Minimum Wage (U.S. News and World Report)

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The Case for Raising the Minimum Wage (U.S. News and World Report)

David Cooper makes the case that raising the minimum wage is not only advisable but necessary: with full-time minimum wage workers living below the poverty line, every taxpayer is subsidizing low wage employers. Not the most uplifting way to see your tax dollars at work.

Workers Strike Over Federal Contracts and Low Wage Jobs In D.C.(HuffPo)

Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson spoke to workers striking yesterday to protest low wages at workplaces funded by federal contracts. If taxpayers subsidize low-wage workers, this piece of the puzzle is even more frustrating, because federal contracts could set a higher wage floor.

SNAP Rolls: They’re Elevated for a Reason (On The Economy)

Jared Bernstein explains why SNAP enrollment isn’t dropping right alongside unemployment, even though that’s a pretty logical idea. Unemployment may be down, he says, but that doesn’t mean people have actually gone back to work, and in the meantime, they still need to eat.

Keynes Skeptics Find New Economic Poster Boy (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait has discovered the new face of austerity, following the collapse of Reinhart-Rogoff: James Buchanan (the economist, not the unloved U.S. president). Buchanan argued “temporary” stimulus would create permanent long-term deficits, but Chait isn’t buying it.

Naming Names in the Dodd Frank Mess (TAP)

David Dayen wants us to stop blaming generic “Wall Street lobbyists” for gutting Dodd-Frank when they have name-brand help. Regulators like Mark Wetjen, one of the Democratic commissioners on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, are also responsible for weaker rules.

The IRS controversy isn’t about taxes. It’s about disclosure. (WaPo)

Dylan Matthews thinks that the IRS controversy is really about the distinction between 501(c)(4)s and 527s: the former can keep donors a secret, but 527s must disclose. Apparently Tea Party organizations are worried that no one would donate to them if they had to own up to it.

A Keynesian Victory, but Austerity Stands Firm (NYT)

Eduardo Porter examines why Keynesian economists are running victory laps around austerians, yet austerity politics are still reigning across the globe. The intellectual battle may be won, but politicians are resisting.

New on Next New Deal

Creating Good Jobs is the Defining Issue of Our Time (Next New Deal)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch knows that our biggest economic problem isn’t the deficit or national debt: it’s jobs. Good jobs, the ones that provide decent pay and benefits, are disappearing, and the economy can’t recover without them.

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Creating Good Jobs is the Defining Issue of Our Time

May 21, 2013Richard Kirsch

On June 4th, the Roosevelt Institute will bring together leading thinkers, activists, and policymakers for A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: Setting the Political Agenda for 2014 and 2016, a daylong conference in Washington, D.C. that will focus on America's desperate need for more and better jobs. Today, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, who will take part in a panel on "Creating Momentum for More Good Jobs," explains why job quality is as important as job quantity.

On June 4th, the Roosevelt Institute will bring together leading thinkers, activists, and policymakers for A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency: Setting the Political Agenda for 2014 and 2016, a daylong conference in Washington, D.C. that will focus on America's desperate need for more and better jobs. Today, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, who will take part in a panel on "Creating Momentum for More Good Jobs," explains why job quality is as important as job quantity.

What is the single biggest economic problem facing people early in this century? It is not the budget deficit or national debt. It is the eroding and disappearing of good jobs. People with good jobs – jobs that provide decent pay and benefits and the flexibility to be able to take care of one’s family – are the fuel of the economy and the basis for broadly shared prosperity. Good jobs, and the things that go with them – a good education, affordable health care, and a secure retirement – are the very definition of a successful economy.

The public gets it. When asked to identify “the single biggest problem facing this country today,” 40 percent answered “jobs and the economy.” Number two was “budget deficit/national debt,” at 6 percent.

Four years after the official end of the Great Recession, the real economy – not corporate profits or the stock market – remains stalled. The proportion of Americans working is the lowest in 30 years, or basically since women started entering the work force in large numbers. Most of the jobs that have been created since the recession pay low wages. Long-term unemployment also is at levels well above anything since the Great Depression. And income for all but the richest has gone down.

So why does Washington and elite discussion remain focused on the debt and deficit? And what will it take to move the politics of the nation to take on what the public correctly understands is the central economic issue?

The fundamental reason that good jobs is not the defining issue is that an economy in which some people have a lot while more and more scrape buy is working just fine for the wealthy and huge corporations that control our politics and media. Personally, the rich are doing better than ever, as their inflated pay and corporate profits are supported by the financialization of the U.S. economy, low-wage service sector jobs here. and low-wage manufacturing and importable services abroad. The middle class in the U.S. may be getting squeezed and shrinking, but it’s still broad and big enough to fuel demand for U.S. goods and services. The disasters to come from the lack of retirement savings, high student loan debt, and long-term wage stagnation are not stopping the rich from getting richer today.

The interest of the ruling elites has been powerfully popularized by the right’s highly disciplined, focused narrative on the national debt and budget deficits. While the motivation here is ideological – to shrink those government services and activities that improve social welfare or regulate the markets – the weapon has been convincing Americans that the national debt is an unconscionable burden on our children, that government deficits are as unsustainable as household deficits, and that taxes are paid to a wasteful, corrupt government. Instead, the right insists that businesses are the “job creators” and that any effort to interfere with what business thinks is best will put people out of work.

As a result, the great public concern about the lack of good jobs doesn’t translate into support for government action – or any action, other than to do your personal best and pray that things get better. People don’t believe that there are solutions for good jobs in a global economy. They certainly don’t see that government has a role in creating jobs or that tax dollars could be spent on effective job creation. And while they support regulations to improve job quality, they are very susceptible to pro-business arguments.

What do we do about it? Here’s an overview of a strategy. One, we need to make good jobs the central, driving focus of progressive discourse, just as the right has put deficits/debt/limited government at the center of their policy, politics, and communication. That requires clearly linking every issue to the need to create good jobs that will enable working- and middle-class families to have opportunity and security. In doing that, we need to be talking about good jobs in a multi-dimensional way. Good jobs are about having enough pay to support your family, flexibility to allow you to care for your family – from children to elders – and access to good, affordable education, affordable health care, and a secure retirement.

Two, we need to center our discourse on good jobs in a powerful, values-based story about how we create an America that works for all of us. This story starts with a vision of an America that provides liberty, justice, and prosperity for all. It reinforces the notion that people believe but rarely hear: working families and the middle class are the real engines of the economy. It provides examples from American history of how decisions we have made together built the great American middle class. And it follows those with a vision and example of how we can make decisions together in the 21st century to create good jobs for everyone in America. It clearly identifies who is responsible for the mess we’re in – the super-rich and corporations who game the system at our expense and buy off our government. And finally, the story empowers people as the heroes who can take action for change.

Third, we need to champion a program of policies that will work to create good jobs. We have policies and innovative ideas that will work today, many of which will be discussed on June 4th in Washington when the Roosevelt Institute holds a daylong conference on A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency. Certainly, we will need to continue to develop policy solutions that address major challenges like globalization and technology. But we should be clear that it is in our power now to redirect economic policy to dramatically improve the quality of the jobs Americans now hold and to create millions of new good jobs for people who are out of work.

Fourth, we need to organize campaigns for good jobs, starting with a focus at the local and state level. Even though municipalities and states don’t have as many resources as the federal government, there are policies that can be taken locally to create a new economic paradigm. The success of those policies will be more immediately visible to people. The lessons learned in building popular support for these policies will be transferable to other places and to the federal level.

Finally, we need to make good jobs a defining issue of the 2016 election. To reach that goal, we will need to do all of the above, with a strategy that brings the work together for the 2016 election. In 2014, we should focus on a few U.S. Senate and congressional elections to experiment with the best approaches. We can take a page from specific strategies used from 2007-2008, which made health care the central issue of the 2008 election.

American’s historical optimism is being deeply challenged by the squeezing, and indeed crushing, of the middle class. Our job is to rekindle that optimism and make it a powerful force for change. We can build an America that works for all of us by building a movement to demand good jobs for everyone. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

 

Lab workers image via Shutterstock.com

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