Is a recession on the horizon?

NewsAnalysis

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary John Snow called it “terrific news on jobs” when the government reported last week that 274,000 jobs were generated in April, higher than expected even though the 5.2 percent jobless rate remained unchanged.

Fighters for full employment warned that despite Snow’s rosy forecasts, job creation is sluggish. A full-blown recession is “on the horizon,” according to one labor-backed think tank.

The Economic Policy Institute commented that, years after the official end of President George W. Bush’s recession, 22,000 fewer private-sector jobs exist than when it began in 2001. In previous recessions “the economy had not only recovered all the jobs lost during the recession but had also generated 6.6 percent more jobs than existed at the start of the recession.” But Bush’s recovery has produced “zero” net gain in new jobs.

The government report confirmed that once again manufacturing payrolls declined, continuing decades of exporting these jobs to lands of cheap labor and investing in “labor saving” technologies. Textile jobs in the South were especially hard-hit, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report.

Bracken Hendricks, executive director of the Apollo Alliance, a labor-environmental coalition that fights for jobs and renewable energy, told the World, “Good, high-paying jobs in manufacturing with family-supporting wages and benefits are disappearing. They are being replaced by low-skilled, low-wage Wal-Mart jobs without health insurance and benefits.”

IBM announced it would eliminate 13,000 jobs worldwide. General Motors and Ford car sales plummeted sharply. “Rising gasoline prices are putting very real pressure on people’s pocket books and increasing the sense of insecurity,” said Hendricks.

Trillions in tax cuts for the rich coupled with the shredding of the safety net is adding to the insecurity, he charged. “Look at the new law making it harder for struggling families to declare bankruptcy,” he said.

Hendricks also cited the crumbling physical infrastructure in the U.S. with $1 trillion needed to build or repair mass transit, schools, libraries, water and sewage systems, bridges and tunnels.

“All these projects would help us transform our use of energy, and create millions of good jobs. It would position the American economy for growth while meeting basic human needs,” he said.

African American unemployment in April was 10.4 percent compared to 5.2 percent overall and 4.4 percent for white workers. Black joblessness has been above 10 percent for over a year. Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) called the Black jobless rate “astonishing.”

He added, “Such a huge gap once again shows that African Americans lag woefully behind white Americans in jobs and employment opportunity.” It is the main cause, he said, of disparities in health, retirement security and education for the African American people.

A 2004 report by New York City’s Community Services Society (CSS) charged that the Black men suffered a 48 percent jobless rate in the city. During a “Special Orders” floor discussion, March 17, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told his colleagues that the CSS report “is a chilling reminder of the systemic failure of the economy to fairly apportion opportunity.” Rhetoric about family values, Rangel said, “is disingenuous if large segments of our nation are not given the chance to earn a good wage and provide for their children, spouses, and increasingly parents whose retirement income is not sufficient to sustain independent living.”

Bush’s budget, Rangel charged, “will only widen the gap.”

“Unemployment is still very high in Philadelphia, 7.5 percent,” said John Dodds leader of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “It totals 116,300 jobless workers in the Philadelphia area. It’s especially bad for African American workers.

“Our major concentration has been organizing to fight to foreclosures of people’s homes,” he said.

“We’re also campaigning for an increase in the Pennsylvania minimum wage which is now the same as the federal minimum, $5.15 an hour. That is not a living wage.”

Labor Research Association’s latest online newsletter carries the ominous headline, “Slower growth and a disastrous budget set the stage for recession.” Real wages have fallen steadily over the past year. Consumer spending fell from 4.2 percent in the final quarter of last year to only 3.5 percent in the first four months of 2005.

“Policies constructed to transfer more wealth to high-income groups and to fund the military buildup are now undercutting the prospects for long-term growth and development,” the report states. “The signs of another recession are on the horizon and Bush’s policies will make the next recession much deeper and longer than the recession of 2001.”