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America's Shocking Unemployment Rate Is the Big Economic Crisis, Not the Deficit

A major study by progressive economists points to employment as America's #1 economic issue that must be confronted.

Members of the Citizens' Commission on Jobs, Deficits and America's Economic Future formally released their report earlier today with a declaration that the commission created by the White House to come up with a deficit-reduction plan is poised to make the economy worse.

That commission's report, combined with a conservative agenda that includes ending all remaining stimulus spending and cutting $100 billion from existing government programs, will "endanger the faltering growth we now see, add to unemployment and postpone measures vital to putting this economy back on track," said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, during a media conference call.

"The current debate focuses too much on balancing our accounts, with little or no attention to what needs to be done to make the economy work for working people again," he said.

The first priority must be to generate jobs and get the economy going," Borosage said.

The citizens' commission report proposes an alternative plan that calls for spending $500 billion a year for the next two years in order to generate jobs and growth, with a special focus on protecting state and local services, building infrastructure and funding public service jobs. "This will generate millions of jobs and spur the economy," Borosage said.

After that two-year stimulus, the report goes on to propose additional public investment averaging over $400 billion a year "to build a new foundation for the economy" in such areas as education, green energy technology, research, and other areas. To pay for that investment, the report details a number of budget cuts—the principal targets include military spending and corporate tax subsidies—and progressive taxation proposals.

The report also calls for continued reforms in health care. "The long-term debt comes almost entirely from soaring health-care costs. America does not have an entitlements problem; it has an unaffordable health care system," Borosage said. There would not be a long-term deficit problem, he said, if the U.S. spent the same percentage of its gross domestic product on health care as other industrialized countries that now have overall better health profiles than we do.

The citizens commission is led by a 23-member group that includes economists, labor and grassroots organization leaders, and academic experts. Among them is Deepak Bargava, director of the Center for Community Change, who on the call denounced the co-chairs of the White House deficit commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, for pushing cuts to Social Security.

Noting that the average Social Security benefit is about $14,000 a year, Bhargave said, "It is morally unacceptable to reduce benefits to middle-income and low-income people, or to raise the retirement age, as Bowles-Simpson would do."

Likewise, Angela Glover Blackwell, the director of the PolicyLink think tank, said that poor- and middle-class families, particularly people of color, have already been harmed too severely by the recession and the decade of economic stagnation that preceded it. "We can't slash our way to prosperity. We must grow the nation out of this crisis," she said.

"Working Americans have had it with the austerity model," added Larry Cohen, the president of the Communications Workers of America. "We're not going to work our way out of this by cutting the living stands of working Americans. That's a failed method. It's been a dead method for 75 years, and it's being revived by those on this other [White House] commission."

Robert Kuttner, senior fellow at Demos and editor of The American Prospect, said that the citizens' commission report flies in the face of a stacking of the deck in the favor of austerity economics fueled largely by a multimillion-dollar campaign funded by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson.

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