Our local member of Congress is a staunch believer that long term unemployment benefits induce dependency and lessen one’s initiative to go out and get a job. She is also a fierce proponent of doing something to encourage domestic private sector job growth, something she is certain the current administration has failed to do.
I wonder about that. It looks to me that job growth is not bad, especially considering the depth of the recession from which we are emerging. I would like to know more about what kind of jobs are being created. Are they full time, well paid, offering benefits? In other words, do they contribute to the rebuilding of a robust middle class? My member of Congress seems to think that keeping the minimum wage low, reducing taxes at the top end, and firing up environmentally questionable energy projects would do that. I don’t see how. Oddly enough, as a fundamentalist Christian she doesn’t believe in evolution, but she’s an ardent believer in Social Darwinism in which everyone can make it if they try, and if you don’t make it you didn’t try hard enough, and too bad for you. Winners win, losers lose.
As for cutting off unemployment insurance, I suppose there are some who are content to live off unemployment as long as they can, and won’t get serious about looking for work until it runs out. I don’t know any of them, but maybe you do. I’m sure an anecdotal story or two will be all that is needed to form a general conclusion about the issue. I hear some of those stories in the Y locker room. They are imaginary anecdotal stories since they are never about a particular known person, but about “those people” who won’t go out and get a job. I usually ask, what job? What jobs are available locally? The well educated can generally find something with one of the hospitals, colleges, community organizations, and the like. Pay is modest but adequate for basic middle class living. Plumbers, electricians, and others with licensed technical skills, do pretty well. Other skilled craftsmen can pick up well paid but inconsistent work in construction. Benefits are problematic in both cases. The rest are dependent on retail and low level personal service jobs that are rarely full time or pay above the minimum wage, and the competition for them is intense. The rest, in other words, are added to the permanent underclass of cheap labor who have become the de facto servants of those of us who are well above them. Hooray for us. It’s good to be “rich.”
I hear a lot of complaining about the demand for field workers in agriculture. Why can’t all those long term unemployed do that? Are they too lazy? It turns out that farmers and vintners need workers who, in fact, are quite skilled at what they do, and are able to work fast for long hours. There are still a few who opt for something like modern slave labor provided through unprincipled labor contractors, but I don’t think they operate in our area. Around here, vintners want full time workers who know about grapes and terroir.. Orchardists want full time and seasonal workers who understand cherry and apple farming. Even the asparagus and onion growers need people who know what they’re doing, and are good at it. Farm workers at the high end can make a decent middle class living. Farm workers at the low end are seasonal, and, at least around here, have a variety of other jobs that parch together a living. In both cases, farmers need employees who know what they are doing and are good at it.
What troubles me most, when I look about the community, are the number of young people whose education and social maturity is so lacking that it’s hard to imagine how they can ever be anything other than members of the permanent underclass. When I talk with them one on one, something I’m rarely able to do these days, it appears that they don’t know that, and that’s scary.
So, madam Congresswoman, if you really want to do something to benefit long term job and middle class growth, invest in education at all levels, and especially in the poorest neighborhoods. Don’t be afraid to raise the national minimum wage. Keep up the pressure to improve the efficiency of the federal bureaucracy. Cut defense spending a lot. Consider raising the marginal tax rate at the high end. Take the cap off FICA taxes. Pass a farm bill that eliminates corporate welfare for industrial farms. That would be a good start.