The GOP Hates Jobs
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Through inaction and timid legislative negotiations, Congress just keeps letting the U.S. sink deeper and deeper into the economic abyss. Last week, Congress denied relief to the jobless and is currently poised to undercut a proposal that would rein in predatory lending. With unemployment out of control and banks pillaging citizens’ pocketbooks at every turn, the economy is in dire need of serious financial reform and a major jobs package.
More than one million have lost unemployment benefits
As James Ridgeway emphasizes for Mother Jones, over a million people receiving unemployment benefits ran out of financial rope on March 1 thanks to Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-KY) self-righteousness. As a result of bizarre Senate procedural rules, Bunning’s sole “no” vote was enough to stop a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for those who are out of work. Of course, Bunning had plenty of moral support from his fellow Republicans. Ridgeway highlights a Think Progress post on Rep. Dean Heller’s (R-NV) preposterous argument that it is time for the government to cut off unemployment benefits, since there are so many bums.
“What makes Heller’s statement really stupid, of course, is that people could become hobos if Congress doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, rather than if they do,” Ridgeway writes. “Modest as they are, these weekly benefits are what’s keeping thousands—and perhaps millions—of families out of poverty.”
As Brian Beutler notes for Talking Points Memo, Bunning’s economic insanity also triggered a 21% cut in the fees doctors receive for treating Medicare patients. That’s a big “Screw you!” to seniors.
What happens when unemployment benefits dry up?
The degree of personal crisis attached to unemployment is also important. We’re talking about access to basic necessities. As Roger Bybee notes for Working In These Times, when a family runs out of unemployment benefits, the result is an absolute personal catastrophe in which there is simply no money left to buy food, pay rent, or meet electricity bills.
Yet when a major financial institution finds itself on the verge of collapse, the government is quick to come to the rescue. In addition to the one million people ran out of benefits on March 1, four million more are slated to run out by June—that’s roughly the combined populations of Los Angeles and Dallas. This is a tremendous national crisis. Here’s Bybee:
“There is plenty of bipartisan compassion in Congress when it comes to bailing out the wealthy and their banks. But when it comes to spending federal money to bail out folks … with unemployment compensation and a major jobs program, a bi-partisan consensus forms among conservatives in both parties eager to show ‘fiscal discipline.’”
As Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes in an interview at AlterNet, the jobs crisis is so severe that the government needs to go much further than simply extending existing unemployment benefits. At minimum, it also needs to send a major package of fiscal aid to states on the order of $200 billion to allow states to hire teachers and cops, as well as prevent further layoffs.
Making the jobs bill accessible to all
While a new jobs bill is critical, it’s important to make sure everyone has access to its efforts, as Aaron Glantz explains for The Progressive. The economic stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed into law last year has helped keep the economy from falling off a cliff, but it’s overwhelmingly neglected communities of color. The unemployment rate for blacks is 16.5%, nearly the double the 8.7% rate for whites, while Latinos face an unemployment rate 50% higher than whites. Not all of that disparity can be blamed on the stimulus, but the federal contracts awarded for new jobs projects overwhelmingly went to white-owned firms. We have to make sure that the funds Congress dedicates to unemployment relief are distributed fairly.