There's a Catch: Jobs
By Bob 0aHerbert
The New York Times
Monday 27 October 2003
The president tells us the economy is accelerating, and the 0astatistics seem to bear him out. But don't hold your breath waiting for your 0astandard of living to improve. Bush country is not a good environment for 0aworking families.
In the real world, which is the world of families trying to pay 0atheir mortgages and get their children off to college, the economy remains 0atroubled. While the analysts and commentators of the comfortable class are 0aassuring us that the president's tax cuts and the billions being spent on Iraq 0ahave been good for the gross domestic product, the workaday folks are locked in 0aa less sanguine reality.
It's a reality in which:
The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by 0athree million in the past two years.
The median household income has fallen for the past two 0ayears.
The number of dual-income families, particularly those with 0achildren under 18, has declined sharply.
The administration can spin its "recovery" any way it wants. But 0aworking families can't pay their bills with data about the gross domestic 0aproduct. They need the income from steady employment. And when it comes to 0aemployment, the Bush administration has compiled the worst record since the 0aGreat Depression.
The jobs picture is far more harrowing than it is usually 0apresented by the media. Despite modest wage increases for those who are working, 0athe unemployment rate is 6.1 percent, which represents almost nine million 0apeople. Millions more have become discouraged and left the labor market. And 0athere are millions of men and women who are employed but working significantly 0afewer hours than they'd like.
Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy 0aInstitute, has taken a look at the hours being worked by families, rather than 0aindividuals. It's a calculation that gets to the heart of a family's standard of 0aliving.
The declines he found were "of a magnitude that's historically 0abeen commensurate with double-digit unemployment rates," he said. It was not 0ajust that there were fewer family members working. The ones who were employed 0awere working fewer hours.
According to government statistics, there are nearly 4.5 million 0apeople working part-time because they have been unable to find full-time work. 0aIn many cases, as the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted 0ain a recent report, the part-time worker is "earning far less money than his or 0aher background and experience warrant i.e. a computer programmer working at a 0acoffee shop."
Economists expect some modest job creation to occur over the next 0aseveral months. But there's a "just in time for the election" quality to the 0acurrent economic surge, and even Republicans are worried that the momentum may 0anot last. The president has played his tax-cut card. The spending on Iraq, most 0aAmericans fervently hope, will not go on indefinitely. And President Bush's own 0aTreasury secretary is talking about an inevitable return to higher interest 0arates.
Where's the jobs creation miracle in this dismal mix?
Meanwhile, these are some of the things working (and jobless) 0aAmericans continue to face:
Sharply increasing local taxes, including property taxes.
Steep annual increases in health care costs.
Soaring tuition costs at public and private universities.
Families are living very close to the edge economically. And this 0asituation is compounded, made even more precarious, by the mountains of debt 0aAmerican families are carrying mortgages, overloaded credit cards, college 0aloans, etc.
The Bush administration has made absolutely no secret of the fact 0athat it is committed to the interests of the very wealthy. Leona Helmsley is 0asupposed to have said that "only the little people pay taxes." The Bush crowd 0ahas turned that into a national fiat.
A cornerstone of post-Depression policy in this country has been 0aa commitment to policies aimed at raising the standard of living of the poor and 0athe middle class. That's over.
When it comes to jobs, taxes, education and middle-class 0aentitlement programs like Social Security, the message from the Bush 0aadministration couldn't be clearer: You're on your own.
Jump to TO Features for Tuesday 28 October 0a2003