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Why Washington Should Pay Attention to the Economy Here and Now

By       Message Robert B. Reich       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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After a week of non-stop Osama Bin Laden, Washington is now returning to the battle of the budget deficit and debt ceiling.

All over Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats are debating spending caps and automatic triggers, and whether to begin them before or after Election Day.

But if you don't mind my asking, what about the economy? I'm not talking about the economy five or ten years from now, when projections show the federal budget wildly out of control, or when foreigners might start dumping dollars.

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I'm talking about the here and now economy -- the one Americans are living in day to day.

The Labor Department reported today that unemployment for April was 9 percent, up from 8.8 percent in March. And that doesn't include people working part-time who'd rather have full-time jobs.

Yes, 244,000 jobs were added in March -- but that's chicken feed. We'd need 350,000 a month, every month for the next three years, simply to get back to where we were before the Great Recession.

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And the percent of working-age Americans actually working -- 64.2 percent -- hasn't improved. It's almost as low as it was in the depths of the recession; 13.7 million people remain out of work.

Hello Washington?

Even for Americans with jobs, wages are going nowhere. Basically, the only employers hiring are paying peanuts. McDonalds just announced it would start hiring big time.

In fact, there's reason to worry we're heading back toward recession. The Labor Department also reports new claims for unemployment insurance soared to 474,000 last week.

In the first quarter of this year the U.S. economy slowed to a crawl -- a measly 1.8 percent annualized growth -- down from over 3 percent last fall. Higher gas and food prices are putting even more squeeze on American households.

And housing prices continue to drop.

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Washington is fighting over how much to cut spending over the next 10 or 12 years.

But right now we need more public spending to get people back to work, stronger safety nets to help those who have lost their jobs or can't find new ones, lower payroll taxes on average workers, and a requirement that Wall Street banks renegotiate mortgage loans so Americans can keep their homes.

Why isn't Washington paying attention to what most Americans need in the here-and-now economy?

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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