The news on the national jobs front seems promising, but there are many dangers ahead. Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 192,000 new jobs were created in February, and that the unemployment rate finally got below the 9 percent mark, inching downward to 8.9 percent.
Hidden in the new jobs number was the fact that while 220,000 new jobs were created by the private sector, 30,000 were lost in the government/public employment sector.
The unemployment rate is heading in the right direction, but at a very slow pace. We need to get down to at least 6 percent unemployment to truly be out of the recession. Some 13.7 million Americans remain unemployed. About 8.3 million are underemployed – part-time workers who would prefer to be working full time. If you add in the millions who have given up looking for work, who are uncounted in the unemployment numbers, it is clear that we have a long way to go before employment reaches non-recession numbers.
Then there is the fact that jobs are paying less than they did before the recession. A new data brief from the National Employment Law Project shows that most of the new jobs created since February 2010 (about 1.26 million) pay significantly lower wages than the jobs lost (about 8.4 million) between January 2008 and February 2010.
Higher-wage jobs paying an average of $19.05 to $31.40 an hour showed the biggest loss in the number of new jobs, while lower-wage jobs paying an average of $9.03 to $12.91 an hour have shown the biggest increase in the number of new jobs. There are too few higher-wage jobs being created, which is an additional stress on the middle class. Even with both husband and wife working full time, jobs at Walmart or Staples just don't pay enough to support typical middle class expenses such as a home mortgage and property taxes.
The recent surge in gasoline prices will not help job growth and could easily derail the slow but steady economic recovery.
The drop in public sector jobs is an important warning that Congress, state legislators and governors should heed, because that drop in public sector employees is directly tied to budget cuts at the local, state and national levels.
But don't worry. We should have confidence in the new Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. Speaker Boehner has said on many occasions that he understands the message of the 2010 elections – the American people want Congress to focus on one main issue: creating jobs.
And so House Republicans have focused their legislative skills like a laser on steroids on those issues that they know Americans consider to be the most important of all: eliminating a woman's right to abort a pregnancy and stopping gay marriage.
Of course, neither of these issues is what Americans care about right now. Speaker Boehner might say that creating jobs is job one, but his actions make it clear that job one for him is making sure the Republican base is kept satisfied, and job two is making sure President Obama is out of a job after 2012.
The Republican House has done nothing to create new jobs. In fact, the latest round of proposed budget cuts for this year's current budget and for next year's budget will destroy at least 200,000 jobs in both the public and private sectors, and would cut our economic growth rate by up to 2 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal and many of the big Wall Street companies.
These are predictions coming from conservatives and their allies, not from the left.
So Speaker Boehner has a choice: He can bow to the ideologues, the tea party and the rest of the far right and cut the budget so much that our country falls back into recession, or he can keep his word and support a budget that contains spending that creates new jobs and finally gets us out of the lingering effects of the recession.
There is historical precedent for this. Back in the late1930s, as our country was finally moving out of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt gave in to Republican pressure and cut spending to balance the budget. The result was a deep recession that we didn't really come out of until World War II.
Seventy years later, have we learned anything from that experience?
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