Since When Is ‘Do Nothing’ a Viable Option?
By Jenice R. Robinson
Americans are ill at ease with the nation's current economic climate as is made evident by recent polling revealing three-quarters of people believe the economy is getting worse and the nation is heading in the wrong direction.
Policymakers have widely conceded that the lack of jobs and economic anxiety are major crises facing the nation, but they continue to dally when it comes to passing legislation that will help put people back to work. Just Tuesday, the Senate failed to secure the necessary 60 votes to move past debate on the American Jobs Act. Even before the bill hit the floor, many lawmakers publicly expressed their lack of support for the bill. Others continue to flat out say that there is a slim to zero chance of action on a jobs bill.
There is a strong disconnect between the state of the nation's families and actions on Capitol Hill. The reality in which ordinary people live is one where median incomes are falling, economic inequality is growing, poverty has increased to 15.1 percent, its highest level since 1993, and where an astounding one in three people live in low-income households. It's a reality in which about 14 million people are unemployed (9.1 percent), and nearly 8 million more are under employed. It's one in which more people (one in seven) have to rely on SNAP benefits (food stamps) to put food on table and even more are eligible but not receiving benefits.
People say the economy is getting worse and the nation is heading in the wrong direction because the effects of the weak economy and jobs market are palpable either for them, their extended family, their friends or their neighbors. Even if they haven't lost their job, received a foreclosure notice, or struggled to pay bills and put food on the table, they likely know someone who has. Given these truths, it makes no sense that lawmakers have failed to put partisanship aside and move forward on legislation that will make an immediate and lasting impact on the public.
President Obama introduced the American Jobs Act just after Labor Day with a major address to the nation. Since then, he's taken his "pass this bill," message public. The bill is good for workers, families and the economy because it recognizes the need to create jobs and includes stimulative measures such as payroll tax credits that put more money in people's pockets thereby spurring consumer spending and injecting much needed stimulus into the economy. The bill also invests in jobs creation through money for infrastructure development. It extends federal emergency unemployment assistance, a necessary move given record high long-term unemployment. The bill also includes Pathways Back to Work Fund, which provides subsidized employment for youth and unemployed adults.
Workers across the economic spectrum have been affected by job loss but low-wage/low-skill workers, youth and people of color have been hardest hit. If policymakers disagree that the president's jobs proposal will positively affect the nation's economy, families and communities, then they should offer viable alternatives. Decrying the bill but offering no workable solutions is tantamount to ignoring the pressing needs of the millions of struggling families and perpetuating this age of widespread anxiety and uncertainty.