Zachary Davis and Kendra Baker, 30-something co-owners of a small ice-cream manufacturing and retail shop in Santa Cruz, California, sat next to first lady Michelle Obama at the 2011 State of the Union address in honor of their entrepreneurship. They traveled a rocky road to their seats in the House gallery, one that reveals the parlous state of small-business finance—an endangered ecosystem whose diminished capacity to nurture new jobs is retarding the rebound from the Great Recession.
If the “mission accomplished” photo-op was the defining moment of the Bush administration's foreign policy, the president's recent visit to the National Renewal Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, defined its energy policy. One week after he embraced alternative energy in his State of the Union address, Bush's budget axed 32 employees at the nation's premier alternative energy lab, a facility that developed key technologies for hybrid cars and photovoltaic cells. His political operatives didn't even know what they had done until a few hours before his visit, triggering a mad scramble to restore the jobs to avoid embarrassing the president.
This year marks the centennial of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and it's sobering to imagine how that exposé of working conditions in Chicago's meatpacking plants might fare before the Bush administration's Ofﬁce of Management and Budget (OMB), the contemporary gatekeeper for proposed regulations.
The lightly ﬁctionalized novel's most grisly passage showed workers slipping, falling, and being rendered into “Durham's Pure Leaf Lard.” Within a year, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drugs and Meat Inspection acts, thus creating the nation's ﬁrst health and safety regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Corporate America's ideological assault on government regulation has undermined middle America's understanding of why these rules exist in the first place. It is true that some regulations have lived past their prime, protecting monopolies and stifling innovation. But the free-market ideologues of our era were not content to adjust those regulations to accommodate new economic realities. Instead, they preferred wholesale deregulation. The results are predictable.
In the past three years, U.S manufacturers have suffered their most dramatic job losses since the Great Depression. Even with the turnaround in job creation reported this fall, manufacturing lost another 19,000 jobs in November.
The sector's low-skilled and lowest-paid workers have been especially hard hit because they engaged in repetitive work at outmoded plants. But even more highly skilled workers who performed statistical process control in automated clean rooms weren't immune. Manufacturing job opportunities for the high-school educated have evaporated across the board.