How Are We Going to Put Americans Back to Work?
Published September 13, 2010
OK, nearly one in ten American workers is unemployed. The jobless rate, to be exact, is 9.6 percent; that’s the highest level in 27 years. Indeed, if unemployment stays above nine percent for another four months, that will mean the longest spell of nine-percent-plus unemployment since 1941. President Obama’s much touted “recovery summer,” in other words, seems destined to join “prosperity is just around the corner” in the forlorn annals of misplaced presidential optimism.
So how will we put America back to work? Where will the new jobs come from? Those are serious questions in America today. After all, whenever corporate outsourcers hear the words, “good jobs at good wages,” they ask themselves: Could those good jobs be done for “bad wages” overseas?
Let’s review three categories of jobs for the 21st century, and see how they stack up–because one day, we’re going to have a president who is serious about reducing unemployment.
The first category is “green jobs”– you know, the jobs touted by Obama and his ex-aide, Van Jones. We don’t hear so much from Jones anymore, but as the president himself said in June 2010, “The transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of jobs.” Well, sure it does–the potential is there, even if the reality is much trickier. After all, it was this administration that made it possible for 79 percent of “stimulus” money for wind-energy projects to end up overseas, employing foreigners. OK, that was 2009. Could we say that perhaps the Obama administration has learned anything since about funding domestic jobs–as opposed to foreign jobs?
How so? Back in 2007, one of the first actions of the newly elected Democratic Congress was to pass requirements effectively prohibiting the familiar incandescent light bulb by 2014, in favor of the new energy-saving compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. But as The Post put it, the legislation had “unintended consequences, because the new bulbs could be made cheaper in China: “Rather than setting off a boom in the U.S. manufacture of replacement lights, the leading replacement lights are compact fluorescents, or CFLs, which are made almost entirely overseas, mostly in China.” Oops. And yet of course, it never seems to have occurred to the Obama administration, nor Congress, to change the 2007 law. “Green” by itself, it would seem, is much more important to top Democrats than “green jobs.”
As one Winchester plant worker told The Post, “Everybody’s jumping on the green bandwagon. . . . We’ve been sold out.” Even more perversely, the CFL bulbs are dangerous. As Scientific American magazine–not in any way a right-wing publication–explains, the mercury inside the fragile bulbs is “highly toxic . . . especially harmful to the brains of both fetuses and children.” So we can also see that “green” is also more important than “health.”
So now we can see the full idiocy of the new policy: Uncle Sam passed a rule shutting down American factories, so that we can spend good money importing billions of little “hazmat” globes from China. And the Obamans see nothing wrong with this picture.
But if Democrats are kidding themselves–and us–about the reality of “green jobs,” others are also in denial about future sources of employment. Let’s take high-tech as a second possible source. We might consider this headline in The New York Times: “Once a Dynamo, the Tech Sector Is Slow to Hire.” Uh oh.
For years, both parties have put their emphasis on high-tech jobs in cool industries such as information technology (IT). Yes, it’s fun to think about Google and Apple, but in reality, they are small fish, employment-wise. Google might be a $150 billion company, but it has just 20,000 employees, while the vast bulk of Apple employees–in the form of contractors, held at arm’s length from America (and from the EPA, OSHA, unions, etc.)–are over in China.
As The Times notes, high tech profits have been “soaring,” and yet those same companies have been “slow to hire, a sign of just how difficult it will be to address persistently high joblessness.” Indeed, domestic employment in such IT fields as data processing and software publishing has actually fallen. As The Times explains, the issue is offshoring and outsourcing to countries that not only pay lower wages but also might have superior skills: “Emerging economies have been harvesting their long-term investments in math and science education and attracting high-tech firms…to their shores.” Obviously it’s important, as a matter of national strategy, not to give up on high-tech computing jobs, but since the U.S. workforce is expanding by 1.5 million or so every year, we have to consider all possible avenues for pumping up employment.
So if not green jobs, and if maybe not IT, what’s left, job-wise? A third promising area is health care. Health care jobs are labor-intensive, few of them can be outsourced, and their number will naturally expand as the population ages; senior citizens, now 12 percent of the population, will be 19 percent of the population in just two decades. So job growth in the health care sector is inevitable–unless, as we might add, the government does something drastic to crimp it.
As Fortune magazine notes, “The number of registered nurses is expected to swell to 3.2 million by 2018, accounting for approximately 581,500 new jobs. . . . That’s up from 2.6 million today, and it represents the largest overall growth projection out of all occupations in the U.S. economy.” Sounds pretty good.
But wait–the Obamans do indeed want to do something drastic to crimp health care, and thus to crimp health care employment: They want to shrink that sector, too. As the president said back in July 2009, he had two goals for Obamacare: To cover everybody and to reduce costs: “My bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector?”
But how can that be? How can the health care sector be shrunk, even as demand is expanding?
Answer: It can’t. It won’t happen. The Obamans might wish to apply their British National Health Service-admiring, ration-everything, small-is-beautiful approach to yours and my health and medicine, but after the November elections, they won’t have the power to do it.
Indeed, the reality of the upward march of health care costs is obvious: As the headline in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal: “Health Outlays Still Seen Rising.” So much for all the those Obamacare promises about “bending the curve” downward on health care costs. Continued cost-escalation might be bad from a fiscal point of view, but it’s good from an employment point of view, to say nothing of a health care point of view.
Right now, Americans agree, creating jobs and restarting the economy is a higher priority than reducing the deficit and debt. And people always care about their health, and the health of their loved ones, which is why, say, Medicare rarely takes so much as a nick.
Of course, some might argue that the real goal should be to deliver cures, not just health care, so that we can save money and have a healthier population. But let’s not hope for too much, all at once. First we have to get the Obama administration to stop poisoning us in the name of green jobs, and then we have to stop kidding ourselves about the millions of new jobs to be found in IT. We’ve dug ourselves into a pretty deep hole, here, and it will take a while to dig ourselves out. And as we have seen, one place to start is health care.
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