Government figures were released today, and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent, down from 7.9 percent in January. There are still 12 million Americans out of work, but it's the lowest unemployment rate in four years, when unemployment was 7.3 percent in December 2008.
I always look at these figures and think that something hugely significant keeps getting lost in this picture.
By all rights, unemployment could and should be much lower, but the Republican Party has tried to have it both ways. They say they care about unemployed Americans (while regularly trying to block unemployment insurance), yet at the same time crying how We Have to Balance the Budget. And so, the White House and Democrats are forced into the position of cutting government programs and government services. And while that all looks swell on a piece of balance sheet paper, it obscures a critical point --
When you save money by cutting government programs and services, what you're generally cutting are the jobs. You're putting more people out of work. What do Republicans and conservatives and members of the Tea Party corporations think actually occurs when you cut such things? That you're just shifting numbers on a balance sheet? You lose jobs.
I completely understand people having different views. If you don't care about the loss of jobs, if you think bringing the budget deficit down is more important than people's jobs, that's swell, it's your position. But don't think you can have it both ways. You can't. And don't think you are being anything but disingenuous hypocrites when you say you want unemployment to be lowered when, in fact, you are doing everything you can to block that. When, in fact, the very thing you're supporting is counter-productive to that.
Bringing down the deficit is very important. But most economists I've read have said that the way you get out of a recession is to spend more. And by getting out of the recession, you bring in more tax revenue, and the deficit decreases.
The best, smartest explanation of this that I ever heard was from Pulitzer Prize-winning tax expert David Cay Johnson. The way he put it (and I'm paraphrasing) was --
Let's say you were out of work, and someone offered you a job, but it was far away and you had no car and therefore no way of getting to the job. You would have two choices -- one), you could turn down the job and stay unemployed, or two) you could take out a loan, go deeper in debt, buy a car, take the job, earn an income, get back on your feet, pay off the car loan and still have your job to keep earning money. Which makes more sense? Which would you do?
So, anyway, I'm glad that unemployment is down. It could and should be so much lower. If only the far right wasn't trying to gin up a phony issue by suggesting they care about both unemployment and the deficit. Sorry, you can't have it both ways. And to my mind, you have to get unemployment and the economy going first. Cutting government programs hurts people, loses jobs -- at a time people most especially need jobs. But having said that, if someone actually, really, truly thinks our #1 priority is to bring down the deficit before anything else -- then there is a way to do that without cutting jobs. And that's raising revenue through taxes.
I'm not saying we should do that. I'm just saying if someone truly believes bringing down the deficit is that critically important to do right now, then one would think that such a person would want everything, absolutely everything on the table to accomplish it. Especially because it would keep from cutting jobs.
Personally, I care more about helping the people without jobs than I do a balance sheet. But that's just me.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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