Commentary

More Jobs: Linchpin For The Nation’s Economic Well-Being


John Ostenburg

Commentary
By John A. Ostenburg
The Outpost Observer

What’s behind the inability of the economy to get moving?

Economists point mostly to the fact that high unemployment results in less disposable income being available for purchases of goods and services. It would seem, therefore, that creating jobs is the best way increase the availability of disposable income and thus the best way to get the U.S. economy moving again.

Unfortunately, though, for some government officials the political agenda is more important than the economic agenda.

Many elected officials rale on and on, making noise in opposition to the stimulus dollars that went into private-sector job creation, while simultaneously adopting public policy that eliminates increasing numbers of public-sector jobs. That’s because the right-wing within American government wants to achieve two goals: it wants to throw as many roadblocks as possible in the way of White House efforts to improve the economy, and it also wants to fire as many government workers as it can because it fears that higher taxes on the wealthy are going to be needed to keep those government workers on the job.

On the first point, despite what some Republican opponents want to say about President Barack Obama’s efforts to stimulate the U.S. economy by an infusion of federal dollars into the private sector for job creation, the plan did in fact work. True, the overall effect of the stimulus hasn’t been to uplift the nation’s economy to the extent that everyone had hoped, but nonetheless private-sector employment has been on a steady increase and that has been in large part due to the stimulus plan. Mr. Obama’s opponents are livid at the thought that he will be given credit for accomplishing this result.

Meanwhile, though, public-sector jobs – in other words, people who work for government – have been on a steady decline. So government dollars are being used to increase jobs on one hand, at the same time that government itself is cutting back on its workforce and putting more people on the unemployment roles. Doesn’t it sound a bit schizophrenic?

In taking action against government workers, conservatives argue that too many government jobs are unionized and thus are too costly to maintain. Not only do they desire to cut back on the number of those jobs, they also seek to destroy public-sector unions in the process.

For those who doubt that more private-sector jobs are being created, take a look at the ADP National Employment Report for August 2011. Mind you, this isn’t a government report; it’s a report prepared by a respected private firm. It’s conclusion, “Private-sector employment increased by 91,000 from July to August on a seasonally adjusted basis.” The ADP website points out that for the previous month, private-sector jobs increased by 109,000. That’s 200,000 more jobs in the private sector over a two-month period.

Meanwhile, though, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that government jobs decreased during the same period by 143,000.

Presently, President Obama has a new proposal for creation of jobs: “The American Jobs Act.” The bill also focuses on private-sector job creation, although many of those jobs will result in public-sector improvements. Rather than the government hiring workers to improve the nation’s infrastructure, the President is proposing that federal dollars be put into contracting with private firms for those improvements, encompassing with that the re-employment of large numbers of the American construction workforce to re-build and replace our nation’s highways, bridges, water and sewer lines, etc. Meanwhile, through employment-tax breaks, the bill also will encourage other private businesses to hire more workers.

“The American Jobs Act” is a great step forward in the effort to re-energize the U.S. economy by putting more people to work and thus creating a better stream of disposable income to be used for purchase of goods and services. A component of the bill does, in fact, also preserve a number of public-sector jobs along with those in the private sector by making funds available to hire back teachers, firefighters, and police officers who have been displaced through government employment cutbacks.

The President’s proposal, though, is not supported by all the members of Congress and thus may have a very hard time coming to fruition. For some in Washington, any expenditure of tax dollars – regardless of what effect it may cause – is something to be opposed. While it is puzzling why so many elected officials want government to create greater job-loss statistics by eliminating so many of its own employees, it’s even more puzzling that they would oppose putting dollars into creating new private-sector jobs. Do they think the economy is going to recover entirely on its own? Or are they simply hoping to stall any recovery until after the 2012 elections?

Here’s the formula espoused by the anti-Obama forces in Congress: (1) don’t appropriate any more money for unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs, (2) cut back on how much we spend on government jobs and eliminate as many as possible, (3) don’t let the President achieve any level of success by increasing private-sector employment. And what’s that the formula for? Ostensibly it’s to assure the defeat of Barack Obama when he stands for re-election in November 2012. In reality, it will assure the complete and total collapse of the already fragile U.S. economy. The anti-Obama forces are taking a huge gamble, using the economic well-being of American citizens as their stake.

Without more money becoming available to households across the U.S., so they can buy more goods and services, more and more retail and service businesses will close their doors. What we now call a recession soon will become a depression.

Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats in Congress need to step beyond their narrow ideological focus and come to realize that creating more jobs and improving working opportunities for the nation’s workforce is the only viable way to get our economy rolling once again. Likewise, they need to recognize that paying better wages to workers, providing them with such benefits as adequate healthcare coverage that thus eliminates the way medical expenses eat away at income, means more dollars to be spent in purchases of goods and services and in paying taxes.

Economic well-being is a circular operation: more money in the pockets of workers means more money spent on purchases and in payment of taxes. More money spent on purchases means more money available for business to thrive, to make a profit, and hire even more workers. More money paid in taxes means government can properly perform its duties – without any profit involved – and also hire even more workers.

Organized labor takes lots of hits from many people because it supposedly is interested only in improving the lot of its members. However, improvement in the workplace for union members also means improvement in the general economy and thus improvement for business and non-union workers also. A major reason America enjoyed such an economic upswing in the aftermath of World War II was because workers were unionized, demanded and received better wages and working conditions, and then pumped more money into the general economy by purchasing increasingly more goods and services.

It can happen again. The first step is simply to create more jobs and then to make sure workers are properly compensated.

John A. Ostenburg is in his fourth four-year term as mayor of Park Forest, Illinois, and formerly served in the Illinois House of Representatives. He retired in July 2010 as the chief of staff for the Chicago Teachers Union after holding various CTU posts over a 15-year period. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he also has been a teacher and/or administrator at elementary, secondary, community college, and university levels. E-mail him at [email protected].


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