Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
Are we finally in a recovery? Who’s “we,” Ke-mo sah-bee? Big global companies, Wall Street, and high-income Americans who hold their savings in financial instruments are clearly doing better. As to the rest of us – small businesses along Main Streets, and middle and lower-income Americans – forget it.
Business cheerleaders naturally want to emphasize the positive. They assume the economy runs on optimism and that if average consumers think the economy is getting better, they’ll empty their wallets more readily and – presto! – the economy will get better. The cheerleaders fail to understand that regardless of how people feel, they won’t spend if they don’t have the money.
Any day now, the Obama administration will announce $4.35 billion in extra federal funds for under-performing public schools. That’s fine, but relative to the financial squeeze all the nation’s public schools now face, it’s a cruel joke.
The recession has ravaged state and local budgets, most of which aren’t allowed to run deficits. That’s meant major cuts in public schools and universities, and a giant future deficit in the education of our people.
The loss of 36,000 jobs in February is better than expected, but it’s still miserable: 26,000 were lost in January, according to the government’s revised figures. And the “underemployment” rate — including jobless workers who have given up looking for work and part-time workers who want full-time jobs — rose from 16.5 percent in January to 16.8 percent in February, offsetting some of January’s gains. (And don’t blame it mostly on the weather. Although the surveys on which the report is based were done in mid-February during winter snowstorms in the east, the major impact of bad weather was on hours worked, not the numbers of jobs. If you had a job in February but were snowed in, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported you as having a job.)
Years ago I worked at the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC predates the New Deal. It was set up in 1914 during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, at a time when many of America’s industries had combined into giant trusts that had enormous market and political power. The FTC was designed to root out such unfair practices. It ought to take on the health insurance trusts.
This week the president is hosting a bipartisan gabfest at the White House to try to tease out some Republican votes for health care. It’s a total waste of time. If Obama thinks he’s going to get a single Republican vote at this stage of the game, he’s fooling himself (or the American people). Many months ago, you may recall, the White House and Dem leaders in the Senate threatened to pass health care with 51 votes – using a process called “reconciliation” that allows tax and spending bills to be enacted without filibuster – unless Republicans came on board. It’s time to pull the trigger.