Among the thousands of people we talk to in their neighborhoods every week, jobs are the biggest concern by far. Today’s job report is incredibly disappointing, but people like our members don’t need a figure on a chart to understand what’s going on—they live it every day. People are worried about whether they’ll be able to find a job or keep the job they have.
Even as millions are still out of work, though, corporate profits are at an all-time high—and the ever-increasing power of corporations in our politics makes it hard to do what needs to be done to create jobs.
At every level of government, we need to be doing more. That means supporting schools, not shedding tens of thousands of education jobs like we’ve had over the past year. It means doing more to keep people in their homes, not letting foreclosures ravage our neighborhoods. And it means giving companies an incentive to keep jobs here, not giving them tax breaks for moving jobs overseas.
We’ll keep fighting for action that will help working people. This isn’t about a monthly report or the next election—this is about what kind of economy we’re building for the future.
The people of Wisconsin may not see eye-to-eye on many recent political issues but one issue that most people can agree on is outsourcing. In a state like ours where manufacturing has been a major part of the economy throughout history, shipping jobs overseas has been a blow to nearly every Wisconsin community.
But here’s what you may not know: Current tax loopholes actually incentivize moving overseas for companies, while doing nothing to support companies that move back to the United States from abroad. Those tax incentives encouraged and rewarded 47 companies in Southeastern Wisconsin alone to move operations overseas – while doing very little for a company like Master Lock as it moved 100 jobs back to Milwaukee.
With such a large manufacturing base and a steady loss of jobs in the state the impact of outsourcing reaches just about everyone. Our organizers hear daily from members who either lost their job to outsourcing or know someone who did. The effects are so enormous that between 1994 and 2011 Wisconsin lost over 81,000 manufacturing jobs. A majority of those workers were certified as having lost jobs due to imports and offshoring.
Members from across the state have voiced their support for the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would eliminate the tax loopholes for companies moving out of the country and reward them for bringing jobs back.
Vivian, a Working America member from Oshkosh, said, “We all want the American Dream: job, family, home and a good life. You cannot have this without a good job.”
As corporate greed increases, the American dream is disappearing. The current generation faces higher unemployment and lower wages even though they are better educated than those before them. This is first generation that will not be better off than their parents.
As Working America member Chris from Brown Deer put it, “Until we eliminate the incentives that corporations have to send high-paying, full-time jobs overseas, we will continue to suffer as a nation.”
Even now, corporate profits continue to soar and wages continue to decline; corporate CEO’s are more concerned about their bank accounts than they are about the people whose livelihoods depend on earning a decent wage. We need to reward companies that do the right thing instead of paying them to move jobs overseas. The Bring Jobs Home Act helps us move away from the “profits before people” mentality to make sure that the people of this country have the ability to buy the goods we are selling.
The thing is, many of these corporations that we pay to ship jobs away were made in America. They began here, found success here and they should be proud to attach “Made in America” to their products.
The first step, of course, is admitting we have a problem. For years, the economy has been re-engineered in ways that benefited a tiny minority of the wealthy and powerful, rather than sharing prosperity broadly. Bank deregulation, outsourcing-friendly trade policy, shifts in the tax burden and the abandonment of the right to collectively bargain all had an impact on an increasingly unequal, and increasingly unstable, economy. Instead of wages that reflected their growing productivity, America’s working people relied on credit bubbles and mortgage debt to get by—and the financial sector grew ever further out of control as a result.
What’s worse is that, instead of changing gears and trying to build a stronger, fairer economy, many politicians are pushing to repeat the same old mistakes. This is true of some politicians in both parties, but it’s especially prevalent among the Republicans who won control of the U.S. House and many governors’ offices in 2010 and among the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for president. They explicitly look to arrest what progress has been made in reining in Wall Street, and to cut taxes even further for the very wealthiest, even as they look to erode the programs working-class families and retirees depend on. They’re pushing for cuts that would hurt health care, our schools and our infrastructure. The AFL-CIO statement says there’s a better path for our economy.
The statement offers these principles for what fixing our economy will look like:
• Public investment in infrastructure, energy, job training and education
• Tackling inequality by restoring the right to collectively bargain, increasing the minimum wage and making full employment the center of our economic agenda
• Restoring U.S. manufacturing and fixing unfair trade laws
• Reining in the financial sector so it supports the economy rather than risking another financial collapse
• Improving standards and wages for workers around the world to end the “race to the bottom”
There’s a bigger question at play here than who wins the prettier headline on a Beltway paper tomorrow, and it’s a question we’re sure to keep fighting about all year. It’s “what is the economy for, anyway?”
It’s a good question, because how you measure the answer says a lot about what you think we need to do to fix it. Do we measure the economy purely by whether a line on a chart is pointing up or down? Do we measure it by whether the very wealthiest people are able to make themselves endlessly wealthier? Or is the health of “the economy” measured by something a little more tangible, a little broader?
You don’t have to pretend President Obama has been perfect on every issue facing working people to notice that there’s a difference in how he and Republican candidate Mitt Romney talk about the auto rescue program—a program that, largely, has worked to keep the industry alive and make it profitable again. While Romney used his time in Michigan to bash the auto rescue as a “bailout” for unions and push an economic agenda that would shift money away from Medicaid into upper-class tax cuts, Obama defended the auto rescue as part of an economy where we all have a stake in each other’s success.
You know why the “bailout for unions” storyline completely collapses under examination? Because union members—the people who, after all, built these companies—gave up a lot to save them. They made concessions on wages, benefits and retiree pensions. They offered to lose things that they had fought and bargained for because they wanted to protect the industry not just for them but for workers after them. It will not be easy to win back the things that were promised them, things they let go at personal cost. As the president said, that’s actual sacrifice. That’s not the action of a greedy special interest looking to loot the taxpayer, that’s the action of a group of people who understand what “the economy” really means.
If you think “the economy” is purely about the bank accounts of the 1%, maybe a program like the auto rescue doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if—like our members do—you think of the “the economy” as meaning how we’re all doing, then saving those jobs, for the past three years and for the future, is vital.
When the people we talk to talk about the economy, they mean something simple. Can I get a job? Can I stay out of debt, feed my family, and not go bankrupt if I get sick? Will I and my neighbors be able to stay in our homes? Will my kids be able to get a decent education and build a life for themselves? After a lifetime of hard work, will I be able to retire? Candidates of both parties need to look at what they’re saying about “the economy” and figure out how it answers those questions.
In case you couldn’t tell from the 20 debates, constant news coverage and firehose-like flow of ads, there’s a Republican presidential primary underway. But to listen to the candidates—particularly on the economy—you’d think they were running for president of a different planet, one eerily like ours but facing totally different problems.
Let us count the ways that the Republicans’ economic conversation is totally out of touch with actual reality here on Earth.
Clap louder, Mitt.
Jobs. At Wednesday’s debate, the word “jobs” was uttered hardly at all, and zero times by candidate Rick Santorum. In a larger sense, when these candidates talk about “creating jobs” they mean one thing: directing more money to the very wealthiest and to big corporations—through tax cuts or through removing regulations designed to protect consumers and workers. This might make a little bit of sense if the biggest problem facing the economy were corporations not having enough money. It’s not. The problem is a lack of consumer demand, because too few people have jobs and wages are falling behind.
Debt and Deficits. These aren’t the most important economic issue we face—continued too-high unemployment is. But by the standards of the Republicans’ own rhetoric, they’re important enough to serve as the basis for attacks and talking points. So it seems strange that the plans proposed by Romney, Santorum and Gingrich would increase the debt—and, more specifically, increase the debt by more than Obama’s proposals would. And they don’t build up this debt by investing in long-term needs: they do it by demolishing revenue through massive tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthiest. Which brings us to…
Taxes. The public consensus is overwhelmingly clear—to afford the things we need, we should be able to ask a little bit more from the very richest than the current historic low rates. All of the Republican plans do exactly the opposite. For example, Romney’s plan would deliver a $264,000 tax cut to the top 0.1%. As economist Justin Wolfers noted, “Romney’s new tax plan is massively regressive relative to current code. Most of the spoils are going to the rich” – and the same is true of the other Republican candidates. And even as they propose these massive tax cuts for the wealthy, they propose devastating cuts to Medicaid and other programs that working-class people rely on. It’s redistribution, upwards.
Housing. In many ways this is the most baffling omission of all. In recent days, Republican candidates have been avoiding the subject entirely even as it’s clearly one of the most important factors in the financial crisis. A few months back in Nevada, Romney offered up “let it run its course and hit the bottom” as his solution to the foreclosure crisis (the housing version of “let Detroit go bankrupt”), though he softened how he talked about it in Florida a few weeks later. But mostly it’s been crickets and tumbleweeds. Forgive me if I’ve missed this, but has any Republican candidate, or even any Republican in Congress, weighed in on the mortgage-fraud settlement or the underlying issue of mass abuse of the foreclosure process?
Let’s not get into issues like the minimum wage, rebuilding infrastructure, keeping teachers in classrooms or protecting the freedom to form a union and collectively bargain—all issues that matter to our economy. We’d be naïve to expect this batch of Republican candidates to say anything constructive.
During Republican primaries, the candidates are pitching to a small audience, and their proposals are kept in line by harshly ideological enforcement mechanisms like talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh and the Wall Street-funded Club for Growth. But with their pledges and proposals now, they’re committing themselves to a totally fictional vision of the economy in the fall.
Out in the real world, Working America staff talk to around 20,000 people every week in neighborhoods across the country and stay in close contact with our members, so we have a pretty good sense of what a broad group of working- and middle-class people care about in this critical year. They want to make sure they can get and keep a good job, be covered if they get sick, send their kids to good schools, stay in their homes and retire with some security. I don’t know what world the Republican primary is taking place in, but it’s not the one where our members live.
This morning, President Obama signed into law a deal that extends the payroll tax holiday for the rest of the year. With the economic recovery still fragile, it’s good to keep this payroll tax cut in place to help keep a little extra money in working families’ pockets. But the flaws of today’s deal—flaws forced through by Republicans in the House, but passed with big numbers from both parties—really illustrate the cluelessness and callousness of policy-making.
Unemployment Insurance: The compromise does, indeed, renew unemployment insurance, but dramatically cuts back the number of weeks that the jobless can draw on it, to 73 weeks or even fewer in some states. The problem of long-term unemployment is still a serious one, with about 40% of the unemployed out of work for six months or more, so pulling away this lifeline is silly. In addition, the deal imposes humiliating conditions on the jobless before they can draw on the benefits they paid into. The net result will be that far too many people who depend on UI will lose it.
Health Care: Another way that the bill is paid for is with a sizable cut to a fund meant to pay for preventative care services under the Affordable Care Act. Preventative care for those who can’t otherwise afford it helps them stay healthier and lowers their longer-term medical costs. Cutting this fund isn’t just morally loathsome; it’s economically short-sighted.
With cuts and new conditions on unemployment benefits, a major hit to the Affordable Care Act and an attack on public-sector workers, it seems like the details of this bill are a big ideological win for the hard-right Tea Party caucus of congressional Republicans. That they’d demand this kind of ransom as the price for passing the payroll tax holiday is infuriating; that so many ostensibly pro-worker members of Congress would let them is just depressing.
When President Obama first offered up the American Jobs Act, it was funded in a popular, common-sense way—with a small surcharge on income over $1 million. It also included a broader set of job-creation components, including investment in infrastructure and support to state budgets for keeping teachers and firefighters on the job. Provisions of this bill were blocked by Senate Republicans because they were not willing to exchange a tiny tax increase on millionaires for literally hundreds of thousands of jobs for working people.
Politics is about priorities. The people we talk to across the country have their priorities: they want to see the very richest pay their fair share and use that money to create jobs and support communities. In Washington—particularly among congressional Republicans—they have their priorities exactly backwards. It’s sick people, retirees and the jobless who have to sacrifice, not those who are already doing well.
San Francisco recently carried out an audit on a number of foreclosures. Their findings were released in a report this week that shows just how rampant mortgage fraud has been. From Reuters:
The audit of almost 400 foreclosures in San Francisco found that 84 percent of them appeared to be illegal, according to the study released by the California city on Wednesday.
Similar studies around the country show comparable results. These numbers are astounding. And worse, they’ve essentially gotten away with it.
In many cases during the housing bubble that burst in 2008, original mortgages were repackaged and sold to so many investors that it is now unclear who actually holds the loans. O’Brien could only find the current owners of the mortgages he studied in 287 out of 473 cases.
In the San Francisco study, which studied properties subject to foreclosure sales between January 2009 to November 2011, 45 per cent were sold to entities improperly claiming to be the owner of the loan.
“It is not impossible that there are homeowners who are alleged to have defaulted on loans to which they never fully agreed to and, further, are being foreclosed upon by lenders that might not even own such loans,” the report stated.
This should be unimaginable. Instead it is chilling – the story of a largely unregulated financial industry gone amuck. The consequences to homeowners and their families is devastating. Of course the most chilling aspect of the whole mess is that the banks have never admitted to any wrongdoing. There have been no prosecutions. No banksters are wearing orange prison jumpsuits as a result of their role in defrauding millions of US homeowners.
This tax day, one of the big Republican talking points is that cutting taxes raises revenue. The theory is that if businesses and the wealthy pay less in taxes, they have more to spend on creating jobs.
But even conservative economists have cast doubt on this claim.
“Federal revenue is lower today than it would have been without the tax cuts. There’s really no dispute among economists about that,” said Alan D. Viard, a former White House economist under George W. Bush, in a 2006 Washington Post article.
Robert Carroll, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for tax analysis, also said that no one in the administration believes tax cuts created a surge in revenue. “As a matter of principle, we do not think tax cuts pay for themselves,” Carroll said.
Bruce Bartlett, a Reagan economist who became a strong critic of the Bush administration’s policies, used data from the Office of Management and Budget in a blog post last year to illustrate how “the Bush tax cuts reduced revenue rather significantly.”
Ronald Reagan, in fact, demonstrated how untrue it is that cutting taxes raises revenue:
Reagan enacted a major tax cut his first year in office and government revenue dropped off precipitously. Despite the conservative myth that tax cuts somehow increase revenue, the government went deeper into debt and Reagan had to raise taxes just a year after he enacted his tax cut. Despite ten more tax hikes on everything from gasoline to corporate income, Reagan was never able to get the deficit under control.
Reagan—Ronald Reagan, the icon of today’s Republican party!—realized that cutting taxes decreased revenues and increased the debt. And he responded by raising taxes. He raised them in regressive ways that didn’t fix the mess he had made, but in comparison to politicians like Paul Ryan and John Boehner, whose response to creating a mess is to see if they can’t turn it into a disaster, he was practically a moderate.
The budget plan that Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has put forward for the House Republicans is truly stunning. It takes the war on America’s middle class not to the next level but about three levels down the road.
There’s something we should start with, though, when we think about this budget. And that’s where we are now. Mark Sumner points us to this graph:
That’s the deficit, and that big orange stripe, the one getting wider by the year, is how much of the deficit the Bush tax cuts are creating.
Not only are billionaires already piling up ever larger heaps of cash under the shelter of the Bush cuts, the deregulation that drove the economy into instability only accelerated the disparity in wealth. Bailed-out Wall Street is again handing out record bonuses, while Main Street is dealing with the effects of budget cuts. The cost of belt-tightening is being borne by the poor and middle class, while the ultra-wealthy increase their dominance.
The nation had a record surplus in 2000. What’s happened since then is not an increase in social programs, EPA funding, or any of the other things on the chopping block in the current budget deal. What’s happened is a massive funneling of cash to the top. Unless that’s reversed, it will be impossible to staunch the flow of red ink.
Any serious fiscal policy will be one that, at a minimum, rolls back the Bush cuts. Any policy that hopes to put the nation on the road to long-term stability must look to repair the damage that’s been done by four decades of fruitless handouts to the wealthy.
House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed FY 2012 budget resolution is a backward-looking plan that would benefit big oil companies at the expense of middle-class Americans. It retains $40 billion in Big Oil tax loopholes while completely eliminating investments in the clean energy technologies of the future that are essential for long-term economic growth.
This means a significant cut to federal kindergarten-through-12th-grade education funding is in his sights… In addition to cuts to K-12 education, the Ryan plan would also cut Pell Grants by returning them to pre-stimulus levels. This is a cut of more than $800 in each student’s maximum Pell Grant award, which would impact millions of young Americans who depend on critical financial assistance in order to attend college.
Makes tax cuts for the wealthiest permanent, adding $1 trillion to the deficit – Paul Krugman:
The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.
It’s practically impossible to comprehend the devastation Rep. Ryan and his party are trying to inflict on working people—and devastation that’s inflicted on working people is devastation to the nation as a whole.
Half in Ten has a quiz about this budget. Take it and see how much you know about where we are and where this would take us.
In an effort to disguise higher food prices, companies are putting less food in the same sized packages. From the NY Times:
One shopper noticed when she made dinner for her 9 kids:
“Whole wheat pasta had gone from 16 ounces to 13.25 ounces,” she said. “I bought three boxes and it wasn’t enough — that was a little embarrassing. I bought the same amount I always buy, I just didn’t realize it, because who reads the sizes all the time?”
Ms. Stauber, 33, said she began inspecting her other purchases, aisle by aisle. Many canned vegetables dropped to 13 or 14 ounces from 16; boxes of baby wipes went to 72 from 80; and sugar was stacked in 4-pound, not 5-pound, bags, she said.
It’s stealth reduction.
In every economic downturn in the last few decades, companies have reduced the size of some products, disguising price increases and avoiding comparisons on same-size packages, before and after an increase. Each time, the marketing campaigns are coy; this time, the smaller versions are “greener” (packages good for the environment) or more “portable” (little carry bags for the takeout lifestyle) or “healthier” (fewer calories).
Marketing strategies are so cynical. They take for granted that we’re too dumb to notice.
This was the paragraph that grabbed me:
Thomas J. Alexander, a finance professor at Northwood University, said that businesses had little choice these days when faced with increases in the costs of their raw goods. “Companies only have pricing power when wages are also increasing, and we’re not seeing that right now because of the high unemployment,” he said.
The unemployment numbers haven’t gone down significantly, but we never hear about the huge numbers of people out of work any more. We never hear about job creation. All we hear about is the deficit, and how dismantling the social safety net is the solution. Even I know that a budget isn’t balanced by cutting alone. We need revenue – the kind created by having a working population.
Food and gas prices are going to continue to rise. This means tougher times ahead for those who are already hurting.