Shonda Sneed of Yellow Springs, Ohio, was laid off in December 2009 and is about to run out of unemployment benefits. Because of state budget cuts, she also could soon lose the health care nurse who helps care for her mother who has dementia. At the last job she applied for, she was told 450 others had also applied for the same position.
Sneed and Bob Stein, a 60-year-old former salesman who has been out of work since May 2010, are two of the 14 million Americans who are unemployed—and their story is not being told in the midst of the debate over the deficit. Sneed and Stein, who are both members of Working America, spoke to a forum on “The Jobs Crisis—Moving to Action: A Dialogue Between Workers and Policymakers” at the AFL-CIO this morning.
As Sneed said:
All I want is a decent job. I want to work. I love to work. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my mother. I have a home to pay off.
The forum, moderated by Bob Herbert, distinguished fellow at D?mos and an award-winning journalist, drew a sharp contrast between the policies that got our country in this economic crisis and are currently being advocated to get it out, and what is needed in order to spark a real economic recovery.
Stein says it’s frustrating to try and find a job in an economy that generated only 18,000 jobs last month. “I was set to lose unemployment as of the second or third week of December, and [politicians] were fighting back and forth and it was predicated on the Bush tax cuts. I was caught right in the middle of that,” he said.
The thing that was so upsetting is when you heard about the number of people about to lose their unemployment check. I thought, “OK, I understand that you’re adamant about this Bush tax cut thing, but you’re holding us all hostage. You’re playing politics with people lives. People use their unemployment. This will stimulate and help the economy.”
The panel also included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress.
Panelists noted that many in Washington continue to push deregulation and tax cuts as the way out of the economic hole the country is in, without acknowledging the role that those policies played in creating the current economic conditions. The strategy to encourage corporations to spend their billions of dollars in profits is doomed when politicians don’t first acknowledge the truth that working people drive the economy as consumers. Without good jobs or shared prosperity, corporations won’t spend and our economy can’t prosper.
Trumka said working people are frustrated with both political parties.
The time for excuses is over. People don’t care about why it [creating jobs] isn’t getting done. They just want to get it done. We can create jobs if we want to. It’s a matter of political will.
More and more economists are coming around to the idea that the economy is faltering because of a lack of demand, said Boushey. The best ways to increase demand, she said, is to invest in things that generate demand, like infrastructure aid to the states, education and long-term unemployment benefits.
Levin said the nation’s trade policies must be a part of any jobs policy. It’s important, he said, for trade agreements to include enforceable labor standards to develop a strong middle class in the nations we trade with who can then buy U.S. products. It also is important to ensure that American workers don’t compete with workers who are oppressed, he said.
Noting that the middle class is the engine of our economy, Franken said retaining tax breaks and loopholes for the rich, as Republicans have proposed, won’t increase demand. Rich people can only buy so much stuff, Franken said, then they save their money.
The idea that those at the top who are richer than anyone has ever been in history—why they can’t pay a higher percentage in taxes is crazy.
This Blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on July 11, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.