On May 20, the Dallas newspaper ran an account of protests across Spain, " MADRID -- Hundreds of Spaniards huddled in a makeshift protest camp ain the heart of Madrid for a fourth straight day Thursday (May 19) denouncing the two main political parties as selfish and useless in dealing with the economic crisis....Similar overnight protests have taken place inseveral cities."
One could argue that the situation in Spain is a lot worse than here. The article says, " ...its jobless rate has soared to a euro-zone high of 21.3 percent. Prospects for significant economic growth soon are slim." The official unemployment rate in the U.S. just rose to 9%, and it just fell to 8% in Texas. But official rates are deceptive. When we add in the "discouraged workers" who are so down and out that they quit looking for a job and the "involuntary part-time workers" who aren't actually making a living but will take anything, our figures almost double. The Bureau of Labor Statistics version of the combined rate is 16.5%. For Texas it's 14.4%, which shows less of a disparity with national figures, because it's so darned hard to get counted as "unemployed" in Texas.
But how bad does it have to be before Americans take action?
Read the economists' predictions. Nobody expects significant relief for the unemployed before the next regular economic downturn. Nobody!
In fact, the jobs crisis is worsening in many ways even during this "prosperity" phase of the regular business cycle. Rightwing politicians in the Congress and in state legislatures are exacerbating the crisis. The Texas legislature reached an accord on May 20. AFL-CIO communicator Ed Sills wrote, "The budget will starve public schools, universities, nursing homes, health care programs and other infrastructure in Texas. It will cost many teachers and state employees their jobs." Ironically, some of the most anti-worker legislators are from rural districts where the public schools and other state-funded entities are their biggest job providers!
Even worse, anti-worker politicians are moving to take away unemployment benefits. They made a deal with President Obama last December that they would allow extended benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year in exchange for two more years of tax handouts for the wealthy. But they reneged already in May. Now they are not only moving to cut off federal assistance, but encouraging states to pay less than the standard 26-weeks of unemployment. Some states, including Michigan with highest unemployment rate in the nation, have already passed laws cutting unemployment benefits to 20 weeks!
It's not just a matter of how intolerable the crisis is, nor of how much it is worsening. Most of the organizations that could spearhead the fight have other concerns that rise higher on their priority lists. Union members are fighting to maintain their jobs and benefits. Seniors are fighting to keep Social Security, pensions, and Medicare. Civil rights organizations have pressing concerns. All of them are concerned about unemployment, but it isn't at the top of their lists.
The smaller organizations all depend on funding, and nobody is funding the fight against the jobs crisis. As a Jobs with Justice organizer, I get almost constant pressure to work on those other issues. I put them off with, "I'll work on it to the extent that it affects the jobs crisis, but that remains our major focus." Let's face it, the progressive organizations with staff and offices depend on funding, and they work on the good issues that they can get funding for, not necessarily the ones that are the most pressing and the most likely to bring about meaningful change.
When the next big downturn comes, and it may have already begun, the jobs crisis will worsen. The solution will not come from the marketplace, not ever, but only from government action. Government action will not come until we demand it. Millions of American families are suffering now for our lack of action. Why put it off?
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