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Poverty on a Vast Scale

Whatever Happened to “Good Jobs”?

by CARL GINSBURG

It is hard to pinpoint the precise moment when “good jobs” disappeared from national discourse, ignored by our leaders and the media that cover their agenda.   The phrase was invoked during President Obama’s campaign—that is, his first run for the presidency.   But it soon disappeared in a West Wing dominated by Wall Street men.  This time around it was altogether gone from campaign rhetoric, a vanishing act with the potential for catastrophic consequences for millions of Americans.   “Good jobs” continues to be banished from national discourse, as if the censors of capital wished it away.

Corporations have nothing to say on the subject, intent to hold down wages and sit on vast amounts of capital – some $3.4 trillion, by last count.  Over the next decade, 7 of 10 new jobs will be low wage, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   The rate of corporate profit is at its highest level in more than a century, according to Bloomberg.   That’s quite a record… Coolidge, Harding, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II… all left in the dust.

Wall Street is thriving.   The stock market S&P index shot up 13% in 2012, and JPMorgan Chase had its best year ever that same year, with Goldman Sachs close behind.  Indeed, the 1% continues to accumulate vast wealth, as U.S. economic inequality becomes even more pronounced, while alarms go off at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere, sounding off  that inequality undercuts growth with emphasis on the U.S.

In spite of it all, everyone knows this central truth:  life is at a dead end in this country without a full-time job at a good wage and with decent benefits: a good payroll job.

Since the Inauguration earlier this month, official debate has focused on debt ceilings, women in combat roles and most recently on immigration.  These are hardly irrelevant matters; but in the end they fill front pages and newscasts where we should see and hear the clamoring for good jobs.

The  immediate goal of the Robin Hood Tax, whose profile has come up fast in just a year,  is to put revenue into the many communities still reeling from the effects of the financial collapse of 2008.  An estimated $350 billion can be raised annually from a small sales tax on Wall Street financial transactions, today embodied in The Inclusive Prosperity Act, sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).   He has 16 co-sponsors, to date.  More than 125 organizations – labor, religious, consumer, health advocates and others – have endorsed the bill.  Together these groups total millions in membership.   They join financial transaction tax movements worldwide; 40 countries have such a tax in place today, as economists, even leading business executives, are raising their voices in support.   The European Union moved forward this month towards implementation in 11 member countries, to start January 1, 2014.

Meanwhile, the corporate sector in this country staunchly refuses to invest in good jobs, making government action on jobs an essential step to move forward.  Robin Hood tax revenue for good jobs in healthcare, in education, to provide a clean environment and to rebuild a deteriorating infrastructure would mark a significant turnaround.

Many millions need these jobs and communities need assistance without delay.  There are a staggering  22 million adult Americans who are without full-time jobs today  and for whom the hardship of enduring unemployment is taking a terrible toll.    Some are recent college graduates, loaded down with debt from escalating school costs.   A Rutgers University survey found that half the college grads in this country over the last six years do not have full-time employment.   Robin Hood funds can help them get a start in life.

What we do not need are more of the low wage jobs being offered, as the numbers of working poor escalate  each year to astonishing levels.    According to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support themselves and their families.   A quarter of jobs in America pay below the  federal poverty line for a family of four – $23,050.   Close to half of food stamp allocation goes to households where an adult is working full-time- that’s taxpayer money paid to workers whose bosses won’t pay a living wage.    Even with this critical food assistance, we have reached a point, the Department of Agriculture says, where nearly 1 in 4 young children in the U.S. lived with insufficient food in the last year.

Our government should join Rep. Ellison and his co-sponsors and embrace the Robin Hood tax and its call for good jobs in a real economy.  Without it, and the yearly revenue it would provide for an enduring recovery, the legacy of our nation’s leaders will be poverty on a vast scale.

Carl Ginsburg is a communications specialist for National Nurses United, a founding organization of the Robin Hood Tax Campaign.   www.robinhoodtax.org