Jobs crisis looms big in 2004 elections

News Analysis

Every day over 85,000 workers across the nation lose their jobs, over 4,000 people file for personal bankruptcy, 43.6 million people have no health insurance, and 11 million children attend broken down schools. Yet on the campaign trail President George W. Bush says, “Today our economy is strong and it is getting stronger. Stock market wealth has risen by more than $3 trillion since the beginning of 2003.”

But what may be good for Wall Street and corporate profits isn’t necessarily good for the majority of Americans – working-class people and their families. Bush’s approval rating on the economy is low and dropping fast. Voters rank the economy, jobs, health care and education as the most important issues for the presidential election – far above national security and the “war on terrorism.” Even some on Wall Street worry that the combined effect of Bush’s war policy and widening economic hardship will create a “perfect storm” of opposition to the administration.

“It literally is a jobless recovery. There is no policy on how to generate jobs. Policy should make sure wealth accrues back to the people, not the corporations,” economist Julianne Malveaux told the World in a recent phone interview. Some 250,000 new jobs a month are needed to fulfill the rosy economic predictions of Bush’s economic report, but last month only 21,000 were created, she said. “The arithmetic is not there.”

The arithmetic “isn’t there” today and is unlikely to be there tomorrow. Constantly introducing labor-saving technology to drive up each worker’s productivity, corporations are shedding jobs and focusing exclusively on maximizing profits.

PepsiCo, the second largest soft-drink maker, invested heavily in computer equipment to become more “efficient,” according to Bloomberg News. “We are definitely in the mode of looking at efficiencies,” CEO Gary Rodkin said. Efficiency meant firing 750 workers and closing a plant in Kentucky last December.

Cisco Systems will only consider adding to its 34,000 employees when they hit a higher profit margin per employee, said a company spokesman. Right now revenue stands at $632,000 per employee. Their goal is to pass the $700,000 mark before hiring more workers.

So – if stoking corporate profits is not creating jobs, what policies can?

If business is not in business to create jobs, then the only alternative is to look to the public, government sector – to invest in the schools, parks, water pipes and bridges that make our society run and our lives better.

“Investment in the infrastructure not only creates jobs, but addresses the health and education of our nation and children. Investment in the military creates the least amount of jobs with the most amount of harm,” argues Malveaux.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently called for a $1.6 trillion dollar investment to bring our schools, transportation, energy and water systems, roads and other parts of our nation’s infrastructure up to an “adequate” level.

The AFL-CIO has issued a nine-point program for job creation which includes investment in the infrastructure, raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing the right to organize, financial assistance to the states, and a jobs program that focuses on developing environmentally “smart” energy sources and producing affordable homes.

But even pro-people public policy will not automatically guarantee equity. Special steps will need to be taken to address chronically higher jobless rates among African Americans, for example.

“The racist disparities in jobless rates, health, life expectancies for Black and Brown people means you have to do some targeting by race to guarantee equal opportunity,” Malveaux says. “Without targeting for racial equality, good public policy does not necessarily trickle down to Black and Brown people.”

All of this points to the importance of building a big, inclusive coalition to defeat Bush and his pro-Wall Street policies as an important step on the road to jobs and equality for all.

Trent Bell, president of the Kansas City, Mo., Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, says CBTU, along with unions and community groups in Missouri, is mobilizing for the 2004 elections with these high stakes in mind.

“There is double-digit unemployment in the Black community and 50 percent of the teenagers are unemployed,” Bell told the World. “CBTU is getting involved with voter education and local school board elections, where budget cuts and the No Child Left Behind law are hot topics.”

Massive government investment in people, not corporations and the super-rich, is needed to create jobs and improve the quality of life for all.

Terrie Albano is editor of the People’s Weekly World and can be reached at talbano@pww.org.