CHICAGO – As George W. Bush settles into his Crawford ranch for his carefree, month-long vacation, working families are saddled with worries about jobs, health care and the state of the economy. Over three million jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001, hemorrhaging at a rate of 110,700 per month.

Bush’s much-trumpeted “Jobs and Growth” tax plan, which rewards the wealthy with big tax cuts, has been met with protests and rolling eyes by disbelieving workers who know from their own experience that the White House economic policies are a reverse Robin Hood: stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. Some companies may be seeing an upturn in profits, but wages and jobs are still in the toilet.

This week some working families received a $400 per child “tax relief” check, although many lower-income families received nothing. Critics say Bush’s tax plan will create few, if any, jobs.

“I would like to question a $400 rebate for a family who has one child … How is that going to create a job?” Mary Goulding, president of the Greater Green Bay Labor Council told the press at a recent Green Bay, Wis., protest.

Unemployment and the economy were the main topics at the AFL-CIO’s Working Families Presidential Forum here, Aug. 5.

Patricia E. Reed, an Illinois government employee, told the World, “My feeling is the tax cut is unfair. How will $400 help when you are $40,000 in debt?” Reed, the president of a government employees union, AFSCME Local 432, said the state’s budget crisis has forced thousands of government job losses and layoffs, something that is being faced in the other 49 states as well.

Mike Roepke and Deborah Stansberry drove all the way from Kansas City, Mo., to attend the forum. Both of them are Machinist Union members at Honeywell. Roepke and Stansberry said the money working people get in tax relief is going to go to pay off charge card debt and buy groceries. Roepke said most of his co-workers face skyrocketing health care costs, along with the rising cost of fuel, especially natural gas.

According to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881 Communications Director Elizabeth Drake, if you do get a tax relief check, taking it to the store for groceries won’t create any jobs or bring down the cost of health care. “What happened when people got the $600 a year or so ago?” Drake asked. “It may have helped pay some bills but we are still losing jobs.”

Plus, Drake told the World, the expansion of low-wage, anti-union chains like Wal-Mart is also destroying jobs, driving down wages and the quality of living. “For every two jobs created with a new Wal-Mart, three are destroyed,” she said. Drake’s union represents 30,000 members who work in grocery stores in the Chicagoland area.

Since Bush took office, the greatest number of jobs losses have been in the better paid, more unionized, manufacturing sector. In many factories jobs have been outsourced to lower-wage, non-union areas and countries. Military spending has failed to create long-term increases in employment, although studies show it has greatly increased the federal deficit.

Statistics also show that job losses have hit women, African Americans and Latinos especially hard. The racist consequences of the depressed job market are evident in the higher unemployment figures for Black workers, where the gushing job loss in manufacturing has had a particularly harsh impact. Complicating the situation for women and minority workers is “the last hired, first fired” scenario.

Bruce Monaco from the Laborers International union said he understood the theory of how tax cuts could stimulate job growth, but felt the large deficits will just further erode the economy. Monaco also mentioned the soaring military budget. “I’m not against the war in Iraq, but it’s costing us $4 billion a week. Somebody has to pay for that,” he told the World.

Monaco also said the economic recession means discretionary construction spending is down because everyone is “holding off on building” until the economy picks up.

The Laborers, along with a number of other unions, are heavily involved in organizing immigrant workers. “Our union has a large Hispanic population. Our union started with immigrants. These workers need to have a living wage.”

Union members and students in attendance at the Presidential Forum all seemed to agree with the Democratic candidates that the number one way to get the economy going for working families is to get rid of George W. Bush in 2004. “We need to bring the troops back [from Iraq] and enhance the economy by creating jobs. There isn’t enough housing, so build housing. That creates jobs,” AFSCME’s Patricia Reed said.

High school and college students from a political group called the Mikva Challenge told the World this election is very important for young people and their issues, in particular, jobs and education. “Hopefully George W. Bush will be out of office,” Ervin Malakaj said. “And don’t get me started on the gay marriage thing,” he added, disgusted by the president’s recent comments.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org

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