Jobs, not debt, should be no. 1 priority

The story is still jobs.

House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t think so. He joyfully declared that the Republican Party got “98 percent” of what it wanted in the debt limit deal.

But that deal didn’t create a single job. In fact, it is likely to cost jobs, with all the cuts that are going to be required.

Lost in the months of debate over the debt issue was the fact that the American people are much concerned about jobs than the debt.

More than half of the respondents in a CBS News/New York Times poll at the end of June stated that the issue of jobs and the economy was the most pressing one. The country’s debt, one of the favorite issues of the tea party and now the Republicans, was of concern to only 7 percent of those who responded.

In fact, poll after poll reveals that the public considers jobs to be the subject their elected officials should address.

Little wonder: Unemployment is at 9.1 percent. For whites, the rate is 8.1 percent; for African-Americans, it is at 15.9 percent. For Hispanics, the rate is more than 11 percent.

Long-term unemployment — the measure of those unemployed for more than six months — provides an even more distressing story. Of the unemployed, 44 percent fall into this category. These numbers are worse than the numbers recorded during the Great Depression.

Republicans like to assert that a huge spike in federal regulations under President Obama and taxes are behind the lousy economy and slow job growth. Not true, even according to David Frum, the conservative columnist and a former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Frum recently noted that new federal regulations under Obama have been insignificant in number and there have been no new tax increases on businesses put forth by the Obama administration.

While the Republicans are completely resistance to additional government spending to create jobs, they have offered no alternative policy.

But there are jobs that can be immediately created right away if the only the political infighting would cease.

The nation’s bridges, roads and tunnels are falling apart.

The nation’s 86,000 miles of coastline also present an opportunity to employ workers. According to Tony Munoz, editor-in-chief of Maritime Executive magazine, more than $5 billion in receipts from the Harbor Maintenance Tax trust fund is available to put people back to work in the nation’s maritime system.

State and local governments across the country are strapped for cash to keep workers employed; these entities could use some support from the federal government to assist their economies and keep people on the payrolls.

These are just three examples.

But most of all, consider the Commerce Department report that recently described the 2008 recession as more of an economic depression. The government must act as decisively as President Franklin Roosevelt did during the Great Depression and get people back to work now.

Republicans continue to focus on the strange goal of maintaining tax advantages for the superrich and slashing government, even amid this job crisis. And Obama, at least until now, has failed to prioritize jobs.

Instead of scoring partisan political points, our elected officials must do what the people want and need: Create jobs now.

Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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