Last week the United States celebrated the 236th anniversary of its independence and self-rule with joyous gusto. Days later, after the smoke from the fireworks and grills had cleared, the government released its latest jobs report. Unfortunately, it left little to cheer.
In June, just 80,000 jobs were created. That’s only 11,000 more than in May and still below what’s needed to keep up with population growth. As a result, the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent.
Black unemployment climbed to 14.4 percent. Latino unemployment remained in the double digits. Youth unemployment is still the highest in decades. One out of six Americans is underemployed. Five million Americans have given up looking for jobs and just disappeared from the workforce all together. If they were back in the jobs market, the unemployment rate would stand at over 11 percent.
In sum, the economy is wounded and struggling against increasing odds to repair itself. Though it’s not forecast to happen, the risk of sliding back into recession is greater than at any point in over a year.
What’s troubling is that the anemic jobs number and fragility of the overall economy are the result of an utterly broken political process in Washington–specifically, amongst Republicans who dominate the legislative branch.
To the detriment of us all, the GOP has opted out of taking any responsibility for fixing the entirely solvable problems of employment and economic growth.
At every turn, congressional Republicans have stonewalled President Obama on jobs. But if his proposals were fully implemented, our economy would have added 257,000 jobs more in June. That’s three times greater than what we actually added and close to the 300,000-jobs-a-month mark we must hit to put a real dent in joblessness.
Moreover, if Congress had passed Obama’s job program and extended his 2009 initiative to prevent up to a 100 percent of the public sector job losses at the state and local level, unemployment would fall below 7 percent. That’s pre-recession territory. And overall economic growth would be at 4.5 percent. Notably, fixing the public-sector employment crisis would solve much of black joblessness.
The bottom line is that we remain in recession because Republicans have chosen to gum up the political process during a time of national crisis. Washington guru Thomas Mann calls what they’ve done "hostage taking."
In 2010, Sen. Mitch McConnell told the conservative Heritage Foundation, "The single most impost important thing [Republicans] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
According to Gallup, the most important thing to Americans every year since 2008 is for Washington to fix the economy.
These two things are at cross purpose: what’s in the best short-term political interest of the Republican Party is not what’s in the best interest of most Americans.
This is a Recession of Choice
Economic growth is no mystery. Since Adam Smith published his rulebook in 1776, we have spent centuries getting better at figuring out how to make poorer countries wealthier. China, Brazil and now some African nations are but the latest examples.
Essential to each come-out-of-nowhere success story is a government focused on improving the living standards of its people. They do so through policies that have the biggest impact on employment. The number one goal is to benefit the maximum number of citizens in the shortest amount of time. Nations that do this effectively make it.
Countries centered on the opposite–government-sponsored wealth transfers to the few over the benefit of the many–remain poor.
From his first day in office, President Obama has tried to get the economy right for most Americans. Though sometimes too tepid, badly sold, or disappointingly weakened in an attempt to get non-existent Republican support, Obama has in fact pushed policy after policy to turn the economy around. He needs to do even more.
But like Destiny’s Child, Republicans have taken every opportunity to say "No, No, No": "no" to the stimulus bill, "no" the health bill (which will create 400,000 jobs a year when fully implemented, according to the Center for American Progress), "no" the climate change bill (1.9 million jobs over 10 years, according to University of Berkeley researchers), and "no" to the jobs bill (almost 2 million jobs in 12 months, according to Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi).
Three out of four of these bills received not one Republican vote. The stimulus garnered just three Republican votes in the Senate.
The GOP answer to the jobs crisis is, instead, a retread of the policies that broke the economy in the first place. They center on trickle down economics, which: 1) have concentrated wealth amongst the top 5 percent through tax cuts and 2) rolled back government oversight of key areas of the economy, such that Wall Street was able to transform itself into a ring of trillion dollar betting casinos.
The Republicans are so committed to their orthodoxy of lower taxes for the wealthy that they were willing to take the country to the brink of default last summer–and risk another recession–to extend Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires. Facing united Republican opposition, the president agreed.
The Republicans and their wealthy backers won that battle, but the country lost. Their antics cost the country its "AAA" debt rating for the first time in history.
For Short Term Political Gain
The problem is that this is not your father’s Republican party. The GOP of Eisenhower, Ford, and George H.W. Bush has been hijacked by a small group of anti-government diehards and radical social conservatives, funded by dark pools of money.
Through the Tea Party network of secretive political action committees, the monied few have been successful at remaking the GOP; so much so that former Gov. Jeb Bush declared himself "uncomfortable" in the hardened party that they’ve fashioned. Colin Powell has long alluded to the same.
The takeover of the GOP led Norman Ornstein, a fiercely non-partisan congressional watcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to conclude that, "We have a Republican party that has two elements: one is an extreme element and other is ruthlessly pragmatic–Mitch McConnell embodying them–which put blocking policies and embarrassing the party of the president ahead of solving problems that are immediate and deep. It’s just outside the bounds."
Ornstein is right and Americans are living the result.
If things have any hope of getting better the Republican Party needs to get serious about governing again.
America wasn’t designed to function with one grown-up party and the other a bomb- throwing one. It only works when you have people from different political backgrounds who fight hard but act in the best interest of us all.
A small group of people pushing a narrow agenda was the greatest fear of the Founding Fathers. They worried that it could sink the country and ruin the democratic experiment.
James Madison, Declaration of Independence-signee, warned against the "violence of the faction," which could wreck the system of governance. He defined this group as "a number of citizens … united by [a] common impulse of passion or of interest [that is adverse] … to the rights of … the aggregate interests of the community."
What Madison described sounds a lot like the Republican Party we’ve got right now.
But we can turn this situation around. In an election year, each of our voices matters more. We need to use them to demand a credible plan from the Republican Party to fix the chaos that it helped to create. It’s actually the only way things will get better.
Imara Jones writes about economic justice for Colorlines.com. Follow him on Twitter @imarajones.