U.S. Representative Marlin Stutzman said, "Most people will agree that if you are an able bodied adult without any kids you should find your way off food stamps." That depends on whether those ways can be found. If Stutzman and other members of Congress believe it's that easy to find a job with a living wage, they're either ignorant of middle-class life or victims of free-market delusion. In either case, Congress, with its shameful response to the people who elected them, has not only made the job search more difficult for average Americans, but has also impeded the process.
Senate Republicans killed a proposed $447 billion jobs bill in 2011 that would have added about two million jobs to the economy. They filibustered Nancy Pelosi's "Prevention of Outsourcing Act," and temporarily blocked the "Small Business Jobs Act." Most recently, only one member of Congress bothered to show up for a hearing on unemployment.
Congress' unwavering support of big business donors shows a callous disregard for the needs of the millions of Americans they're supposed to be representing. Here are five of the paralyzing consequences:
1. They've stifled the growth of millions of young adults
In the U.S., more than half of college graduates were jobless or underemployed in 2011. Over the last 12 years, according to a New York Times report, the United States has gone from having the highest share of employed 25- to 34-year-olds among large, wealthy economies to having among the lowest. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that nearly 300,000 people with at least a bachelor's degree were making the minimum wage in 2012, double the number in 2007. Not since the 1960s have so many young adults been living with their parents.
2. They've mocked the concept of a "living wage"
At the very least, one would think, workers should be able to sustain their lifestyles over the years, to keep from falling backwards in earnings. But they've lost 30% of their purchasing power since 1968. This happened during a time of steady American productivity. It has been estimated that a minimum wage tied to productivity should now be $16.54 per hour, but the current $7.25 is less than half of that, and below poverty-level. It's been getting worse in the last five years. While 21 percent of post-recession job losses were considered low-wage positions, 58 percent of jobs added during the recovery were considered low-wage. Congress fiddles while more and more American families lose their earning power.
3. They've allowed nearly half of America to go into debt
Our young adults are not only underemployed, but the college graduates among them are dealing with an average of $26,600 in debt, which translates, according to Demos, into $100,000 of lifetime wealth loss. Total student debt has quadrupled in just ten years.
It goes beyond students to the population at large, many of whom survived the boom years by borrowing heavily on homes and credit cards. In 1983 the poorest 47% of America owned an average of $15,000 per family, 2.5 percent of the nation's wealth. By 2009 the poorest 47% of America, as a group, owned ZERO PERCENT of the nation's wealth. Their debt exceeds their assets. Yet Congress caters to "too big to fail" financial institutions while "too little to matter" American homeowners don't earn enough to stay out of debt.
4. They've persisted with the trickle-down "job creator" myth
The "low tax = job creation" argument is absurd. Congress need only look at four of its pet projects: Bank of America, Citigroup, Pfizer, and Apple. Each one of the first three made much of their revenue in the U.S. over the last two years, but claimed billions of dollars of U.S. losses (big foreign gains, though). Yet with almost zero U.S. taxes among them, all three companies are among the top ten job cutters.
Apple is a special case. Rand Paul fumed, "What we need to do is apologize to Apple and compliment them for the job creation they're doing." But Apple only has 50,000 U.S. employees, and despite earning about $400,000 per employee, they were the biggest U.S. tax avoider in 2012.
As America waits in vain for corporate job growth, Congress might look in its own back yard for the very worst job cutter, the federal government itself, which has begun to slice up a long-time model of public service, the Post Office.
5. They've aligned against the one area that would ensure jobs and a safer future
A study at the University of Massachusetts concluded that at least 1.7 million jobs could be generated by a commitment to clean energy, about three times as many as in the fossil fuel industry. Half of them would be labor-intensive jobs requiring at most a high school education. And all these new employees would help to reduce their own home heating costs. A recent report by a Kansas energy group, which analyzed data from 19 wind projects, concluded that wind energy generation "is equivalent to, or in some cases significantly cheaper than, new natural gas peaking generation."
If Congress were really concerned about job creation, and about the cost and environmental impact of energy choices, and about the implications of falling behind China and Germany in clean technologies, they would see that a transition to wind and solar power is necessary. But oil, gas, and coal received over twice the level of subsidies provided for renewable fuels from 2002 to 2008. Globally it's six times more, with U.S. post-tax fossil fuel subsidies of $502 billion leading the world. Even with their subsidy advantage, right-wing groups, funded by Koch Industries, are seeking to repeal renewable energy initiatives in individual states. Their deceitfully-named "Electricity Freedom Act" will keep the money flowing to dirty energy. But not the jobs.
How can the job-defeating behavior of Congressional Republicans be explained? It was suggested earlier that they're either ignorant of middle-class life or victims of free-market delusion. Perhaps it's more insidious. Thom Hartmann reports on a dinner meeting the night of January 20, 2009, when "Republican conspirators vowed to bring Congress to a standstill, regardless of how badly Congressional inaction would hurt the already hurting American economy and people." In short, they don't want Obama to look good. If that's true, it goes beyond shame. To disgrace.