America is facing historic choices that will shape our economy, our society and our democracy for decades to come, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said today.
Speaking at the prestigious Brookings Institution, he said, “Our nation does not have a debt crisis. We have a jobs crisis.”
America isn’t broke. Our nation’s basic promise—an ever-rising, ever-widening prosperity—is being broken.
It is being broken by three decades of a contradictory economic strategy based on low wages and consumption, he said. As a result, the rich have gotten much richer, the poor have gotten poorer and those left in the middle are struggling to hang on. U.S. trade policies have decimated our nation’s manufacturing base and our tax policies promote inequality.
Now we see conscious and coordinated efforts to delegitimize government and destroy unions in order to eliminate countervailing powers to corporate interests.
The nation has lost nearly 7 million jobs since December 2007—and another 4 million jobs should have been created as people entered the labor force, giving us an 11 million jobs hole in our labor market, he said. And this is not an equal opportunity recession, Trumka added. The official unemployment rate is 16.7 percent among African Americans, 11.3 percent among Hispanics and 23 percent among teenagers.
To rebuild our economy and create jobs, we need to rethink some of the assumptions that have distorted the debates and decisions of the past three decades or more, Trumka said.
First, we need to understand that many multinational companies want to be treated as American institutions, “while they treat the stars and stripes as a flag of convenience.”
The big brand name companies that employ a fifth of America’s workers cut their U.S. workforces by 2.9 million during the 2000s—while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million. Public policy should be focused on improving our competitiveness as a nation, and not on improving the cash flows of global enterprises that are ultimately indifferent to our fate as a national community.
It’s also time to have a 21st century, reality-based trade policy, he said.
We can talk all we want about free trade, comparative advantage and free markets. But our competitors, to their credit, are consciously pursuing national economic strategies, while we are borrowing almost half a trillion dollars every year from the rest of the world, just to buy the goods we used to make here.
We also need to reconsider the economically baseless idea that deficits are the problem and austerity is the answer, he said. America has a massive jobs crisis caused by collapsing demand. Austerity will make it worse, he added.
Trumka also outlined six policy changes that are needed to create jobs:
- Rebuild America’s schools, transportation and energy systems.
- Revive American manufacturing and stop exporting good jobs overseas. We need to end currency manipulation by China and other countries. We need to reform our trade policies and end the tax incentives that encourage the offshoring of manufacturing jobs.
- Put people in the hardest hit communities back to work—especially in communities of color—with direct, targeted government hiring.
- Provide more aid to state and local governments to prevent cutbacks in public services.
- Reform Wall Street so Main Street can create jobs.
- Restore consumer demand—and jump-start our economy—by extending unemployment compensation and keeping homeowners in their homes.
If policymakers are indifferent to the deepening suffering, the public will look for answers anywhere they can be found, Trumka warned.
Purveyors of irrational hatred will step into the void, making it more difficult to solve the very problems that are polarizing our politics.
What’s ultimately at stake is the oldest question in American history—whether “we the people” can bring our country’s course closer to our interests and values.