As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, September 04, 2009

Washington, We Have A Jobs Problem

The jobs report for August showed another 216,000 losses. That's far less than previous months, in fact the smallest in a year, but still not very good. The unemployment rate jumped up to 9.7%, and it'll basically be a matter of time before we're at 10%.

The AFL-CIO released a stunning report about young workers, showing their struggles in the past decade, where they have less jobs, worse jobs and no security.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don’t have coverage because they can’t afford it or their employer does not offer it.
Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than in 1999—while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills.
A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.
When asked who is most responsible for the country’s economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.
By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
Thirty-five percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there’s not an election going on.
The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

At the low end, workers are often paid under the minimum wage and cheated out of overtime pay.

This is just not sustainable. A thin layer of the super-rich exploiting a permanent underclass, with many out of work or unable to gain independence, will not result in a workable society. Social unrest is a more likely outcome.

We cannot forget this. The Democratic Party is becoming reliant on the professional class instead of the working class, and it leads to policy that doesn't help workers. The shrinking unionized sector, and the inability to create policy to reverse that trend, will come back to hurt the so-called "party of the people."

Labor's lack of clout to pass EFCA in even the most overwhelmingly Democratic -- and progressive -- Congress in decades is an indication that we already have a successful progressive movement in which labor plays only a modest role. Union support was less crucial to Obama's nomination and his general election victory than it was to any previous Democratic president, which is why he's not obligated to twist arms to pass the bill. Many Democratic victories in 2008 were in states and districts where labor is weakest, like Virginia and North Carolina. And I know dozens of engaged liberals who have no idea why EFCA matters.

The new progressive coalition follows the lines of the "emerging Democratic majority" that Ruy Teixeira and John Judis predicted in their 2002 book of that name: minority, professional, and younger voters, with help from a large gender gap. This is a coalition that can win without a majority of white working-class voters, whether union members or not. (Those who were union members were always solid Democrats.) In many ways, that's good because it helps to bring an end to the culture wars that limited the party's ability to speak clearly about matters of fundamental rights and justice.

But it's also dangerous. A political coalition that doesn't need Joe the -- fake -- Plumber (John McCain's mascot of the white working class) can also afford to ignore the real Joes, Josés, and Josephines of the working middle class, the ones who earn $16 an hour, not $250,000 a year. It can afford to be unconcerned about the collapse of manufacturing jobs, casually reassuring us that more education is the answer to all economic woes. A party of professionals and young voters risks becoming a party that overlooks the core economic crisis--not the recession but the 40-year crisis--that is wiping out the American dream for millions of workers and communities that are never going to become meccas for foodies and Web designers.

I think the lack of connection between Democrats and the working class reflects itself in all these jobless recoveries we're seeing. Policy just isn't made for the median income, but of, by and for the rich. It's a very dangerous situation.

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