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Amy Traub

Got Jobs?

The April employment report is still giving me nightmares. Employment in retail trade declined by 47,000; jobs in manufacturing plummeted by 149,000; Construction employment fell by 110,000; the professional and business services industry lost 122,000 jobs.

And 66,000 Americans found work helping to prepare for the 2010 Census.

Of course, these weren’t the only citizens to obtain employment last month. What’s more, the new Census positions aren’t even permanent. But amidst the carnage of unrelenting layoffs, there’s something about those newly hired Census employees… I can’t help wishing there were more of them.

I thought about the Census workers during the utterly absurd controversy over whether the Republican party would officially urge the Democrats to change their name to the “Democrat Socialist Party.” If the Democrats were truly willing to think big – to be informed by the best traditions of European social democracy, or even the New Deal – the federal government would be hiring a lot more than 66,000 employees during a time of tremendous economic need.

We may not need thousands more people take the Census (although more employees might help prevent the troubling undercounts that plagued past Census efforts). But we have no shortage of other urgent public needs. The time has come to think about hiring people to address them directly, going beyond inadequate stimulus funding to launch a genuine public jobs program.

As William Greider argued in a recent Nation article:

“Guaranteed public jobs paying more than the minimum wage would permanently and automatically stabilize the economy, swelling the ranks of public workers in recessions and shrinking them when private jobs become more abundant. Instead of punishing the working poor most severely in downturns, as the system does now, the government would redistribute the costs of recession so that all taxpayers would share the burden as a public obligation.”

A permanent public jobs program, as Greider proposes would indeed be thinking big. But a even temporary program of sufficient scale would make an enormous difference in a broken economy. After all, the Democratic party is apparently bound to be called “socialist” regardless.

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Posted at 8:31 AM, May 21, 2009 in Economic Stimulus | Stimulus
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