Debt? What About Jobs?
Amid all the grumbling, grandstanding and unadulterated sophomoric grumpiness of the debt-ceiling debate walks an unknown tonnage of elephant in the room folks won’t talk about. It’s that niggling 9.2% unemployment rate – and that’s modest when considering what some observers allude to as “real unemployment:” the unofficial numbers of luckless millions who are officially off-the-grid, drained of benefit extensions or exhausted from unsuccessful two-year plus job searches.
Media won’t touch it until depressing jobs stats hit bricks on the chin of Wall Street each month. Pop culture skips around it like cruel kids in a schoolyard, blaming it on the victim: “You can’t haaang! You can’t haaang!” Overall, society treats it as the “new normal,” driving past it like the beggars waiting to wipe your windshield. When sobering jobs stats drop, the White House opts for ignorant spin. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate,” said adviser David Plouffe recently, hinting that perhaps the President’s political team is hoping unemployed people don’t vote.
This is really political jousting. Reelection hopes can’t be dashed by the impression of permanently high joblessness. As a result, Democratic hacks are more concerned about not giving Republicans any ground as opposed to putting heads together and figuring a way out of it. Congressional Republicans, eager to use that Plouffe line in a future campaign ad, would like to hit back and highlight it as an example of trademark Obama detachment. But, the problem is that they, like Democrats, have no real plan or clue. Some Republicans, like President candidate Rep. Michelle Bahmann (R-MN), admit that keeping unemployment high gives them the leverage to win future races. It’s all about 6 million political ways to shut down the President, folks’ unpaid bills and mortgages be damned. This is scorched-earth mentality, similar to Dark Lord Sauron in Lord of the Rings retaking Mordor and attempting to scourge through Middle-earth in a bid for eternal power.
In the meantime, Washington is stuck like a bad transmission on the topic of jobs. On real: they don’t know what to do. Which is why we don’t see any grand plans to attack it. It explains why cats have to stop then stutter every time it’s raised.
Debt-ceiling negotiations, in fact, are a welcome reprieve for politicians who would rather not think about gig-less sob stories of others. Drama-queen clashes and nasty (bigot-driven) public statements about the President over something that’s been a fairly procedural vote since the mid 20th century is less time spent fixing the root problem. There is no rocket science or magic trick. So long as people don’t have jobs, they can’t spend. Lack of spending translates into lack of profit and tax receipts from companies. Lack of personal income means less tax revenue. That, obviously, means less revenue in general for government, which means more debt since government – constantly responding to the crisis of high jobs and resulting social ills – will have to spend more than it’s bringing in.
Even if you cut or shrink government now, you’ll find yourself having to cut again down the road if nothing is done about the jobless rate. And, let’s not forget that constant cutting of government (state, local and federal) is not confined to shadowy programs – you need people to run programs. Therefore, the fewer programs you have, the fewer jobs open to run them. In addition, that’s fewer businesses government will pay to support certain functions since we’re all outsource happy these days.
To its credit, the Congressional Black Caucus slammed the rest of Washington – and, yes, their former alum the President – for ignoring unemployment, particularly the outrageously high black unemployment rate. That’s now risen to 16.2%. Kudos for a group of black political minds fighting over substance rather than mimicking teenage girls scratching over the school basketball star like what’s happening between Sharpton, West, Joyner and Smiley. We’d much rather get into what we’re going to do about that quarter of the black middle class that evaporated over the past few years than how much we like our black President.
But, the CBC presser last week fell flat simply because, yes, we’re not talking about “34 percent of white [soccer moms]” being unemployed as CBC Chair Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) complained. Still, the CBC will press on for political necessity. Most of its members, hailing from majority black districts stricken by high unemployment, are losing their hearing from the screams of angry jobless constituents. The more senior members are growing more worried about primary challenges. And while the White House busily courts their Latino colleagues on a regular basis, the CBC has got to find a way to get on the President’s radar. They can’t do that with the room filled to the debt-ceiling.
Charles D. Ellison is Chief Political Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune, author of the critically-acclaimed urban political thriller TANTRUM and a nationally recognized, frequently featured expert on politics.