For Jobs, It’s Up To Government
Good jobs are needed to make America right
By CHARLES BLOWS (If you must read the original, it’s here)
My instincts, which mirror those of the Administration, tell me we may need to pay more attention to jobs and the economy.
Even so, the President’s new jobs proposal is already being nickeled and dimed from the right — and because I’m a thoughtful, unbiased member of the media, the left. Yes, I use nickels as a metaphor for millions of dollars and dimes as a metaphor for billions of dollars, but at least this is a start; a long-overdue follow-up to the earlier and much needed $800-billion plus stimulus package which saved America from sure economic ruin.
To understand how overdue a government jobs creation effort is, look at the dreadful data issued this week by the Census Bureau about the increasing numbers of people falling into poverty. No matter how you slice it, it’s bloody.
There are now 46.2 million poor Americans, most with enough food, reasonable housing, satellite or cable television, one or more cell phones, one or more vehicles, and air conditioning. Even so, it’s still bloody and unfair and our national band-aid should be the President’s new government jobs program, paid for by much-needed tax increases.
But the poverty numbers obscure the true nature of the challenge, which is getting working America to transfer money to the non-working. We’ve really lost our way here: remember ‘from each according to the government’s ability to take and to each according to their ability to beg the government’? I do, and it wasn’t that long ago.
And it’s not that many of these poor don’t work. Instead, for most, it’s that they don’t have the kind of jobs that pay enough to get that second flat screen, third Xbox, or fourth cell line.
This raises an important point — not only do we need to have the government create more jobs, we should also have the government increase the number of good jobs. And we can’t let good jobs become a skirmish between warring political ideologies because it’s going to be an international war. At least that is the way Jim Clifton frames it in his fascinating — and frightening — new book, “The Coming Jobs War.” (I like to use ‘frightening’ in my writing because it carries with it the implication of a government-led solution.)
According to Clifton, “the coming war is for good jobs.” (He defines a good job, also known as a formal job, as one with a “paycheck from an employer and steady work that averages 30-plus hours per week.”) Simply stated, this is frightening.
In the book he makes this frightening statement: “The primary will of the world is no longer peace, freedom, democracy, family, God, nor property. The will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that.” The frightening problem is that there are not enough good jobs to go around.
Clifton explains that of the world’s five billion people over 15 years old, three billion said they worked or wanted to work, but there are only 1.2 billion full-time, good jobs. Therefore his shocking and frightening conclusion is that “the world will be led by economic force — a force that is primarily driven by job creation and quality G.D.P. growth.” And China is vying for the lead. Frightening.
And I must say, we don’t appear to be poised to fight this war. In education we’ve gone from overachieving to underachieving (we need more schools, more teachers, and better teacher pay), our infrastructure is literally crumbling around us (even as it’s shovel-ready for improvement), and our politics have succumbed to paralysis (even though I’m an unbiased media member, the Republicans are evil obstructionists).
A widely-cited 2009 study from McKinsey, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” found the recent American educational achievement gaps — between black and Latino students and white ones; between low-income students and the rest; between low-performing states and the rest; and between the United States as a whole and better-performing countries — costs trillions. A first step in the solution should therefore be obvious: out of literally thin-air we can and should create trillions of dollars worth of value by simply changing the definition of ‘low-performing.’
According to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young, China has “about 9 percent of G.D.P. devoted to infrastructure, compared with less than 3 percent in the United States.” All other things being equal, clearly 9 percent is more than 3 percent. And the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded by the Society of Engineers For Good Jobs In America was so full of F’s and incompletes that it looked like Rick Perry’s college transcript (I have every confidence that should the President someday choose to release his transcripts and standardized test scores, they’ll be above average, just as all of America should be).
Furthermore, Clifton points out that 30 percent of America’s students drop out or do not graduate on time. He concludes, “If this problem isn’t fixed fast, the United States will lose the worldwide, economic, jobs wars because our teachers and administrative staff might be unemployed or underemployed.”
And, a recent Rand Corporation study found that “between 1999 and 2009, total spending on health care in the United States nearly doubled, from $1.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion. During the same period, the percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product devoted to health care climbed from 13.8 percent to 17.6 percent. Per person health care spending grew from $4,600 to just over $8,000 annually.” This is the one area where we can proudly say our economy is growing, although more government regulation and bureaucracy are still needed to create more good health care jobs, jobs that are difficult to export.
Clifton has 10 areas America will have to master to “lead the world” but at the top of the list is understanding that the world has a shortage of good jobs and every decision of every good American government leader must be dedicated to increasing those jobs. Clifton puts it this way: “The war for global jobs is a war to rule the big blue marble. If the United States allows China or any country or region to out-enterprise, out-job-create, out-grow its G.D.P., everything changes and we could lose the marble. This is America’s next final war for everything.”
Sounds frightening, doesn’t it?