AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka has it right. It’s not the heat in Washington, D.C., that’s bothering him and many other advocates of working people. It’s the stupidity – the economic stupidity of Congress refusing to give financial aid to states that badly need help in order t o save the jobs of some 300,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, police and other public service workers who are facing layoffs because of budget deficits.
The possible remedy is at hand a pending $100 billion jobs bill. Most of the money would go to states for quickly creating or saving up to one million jobs in public and private employment, restoring government services that have been cut, and averting other planned cuts, mostly in education, public safety and job training.
Republican opposition has kept the jobs bill from passage. The GOP also opposes a companion bill that deals with another bit of economic stupidity in Washington the stupidity of Congress’ refusal to extend the unemployment insurance benefits of the 1.4 million Americans who will run out of benefits by the end of July, and the 325,000 who already have run out of benefits.
By year’s end, more than eight million workers will have exhausted their benefits. Their regular benefits, averaging $300 a week, ran out after 26 weeks and have not been extended as they usually have been during periods of heavy unemployment. The House voted for extension, and President Obama urged extension. But the Senate has refused to act.
The AFL-CIO’s Trumka calls the situation tragic, as well he should. He notes that almost 15 million Americans are currently unemployed, a number that’s been growing by about 250,000 workers per week.
So, 15 million people who need jobs – many who desperately need jobs – are unable to find them. About one million have been jobless for more than a year.
Overall, the jobless make up about 10 percent of the workforce. They’ve been out of work an average of 35 weeks. Another 11 million Americans are underemployed, including temporary and part-time workers and others who are underutilized and underpaid.
Nearly half of all the jobless have been out of work for more than six months. As Trumka says, "Families are stretched to the limit and state budgets are under incredible strain, putting hundreds of thousands more jobs in danger. Yet the Republicans in Congress repeatedly have blocked efforts to take action, create jobs and rebuild our battered economy." Although it’s mainly Republicans who’ve opposed extension of benefits, some conservative Democrats have also opposed extension.
Trumka, noting that many politicians, including every member of the House, will be on the ballot in the coming mid-term elections, urges union members to demand that the office seekers take concrete action to "rebuild our economy and create jobs now." If they don’t take action, Trumka warns, "they may not be elected officials anymore."
New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman blames Congress’ failure to provide relief to the jobless on "a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused."
Krugman defines the heartless as "Republicans who have made the cynical calculation that blocking anything President Obama tries to do – especially anything that might ease the country’s economic problems – improves their chances in the midterm elections.
And the clueless? Try Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for senator from Nevada. She’s repeatedly claimed that the unemployed are deliberately choosing to stay jobless so they can keep collecting the benefits of a few hundred dollars a week.
The confused include politicians and others who apparently are too confused to understand the obvious – that the unemployed need money, and will quickly spend whatever they get in the way of extended benefits, thus boosting consumer spending, helping create jobs quickly and otherwise expanding the economy.
Except to the heartless, clueless and confused, saving money at the expense of the unemployed by denying them benefits is, as Paul Krugman says, "cruel as well as misguided."
Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist who has covered labor and politics for a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com