Editor: This originally appeared on the San Diego U-T’s OpEd page on Sunday, September 4th.
By Lorena Gonzalez / San Diego Labor Council / September 4, 2011
Nick is a skilled sheet metal worker from Spring Valley. Despite being extremely well-trained in his craft and having plenty of experience as a journeyman, he has been without a job since August 2009. That’s more than two years of putting food on the table for his four children without a steady paycheck.
Unfortunately, Nick is not unique. Twenty-five million people in America who want to work can’t find the full-time jobs they need.
There’s a simple explanation for why every national, state and local poll lists the economy at the top of our concerns. America wants to work, America is looking for work and America can’t find enough work.
While the number of explanations and theories for the cause of our continued economic downturn are as crazy as some of the politicians’ solutions, there are a few things that are clear.
Unlike American workers, American businesses have been doing quite well over the last 18 to 24 months. But because of uncertainty on a global scale, they have been holding on to their cash. In fact, it was recently reported that four large corporations – GE, Apple, Pfizer and CBS – have a combined $1.2 trillion in cash on hand. That’s available cash – not property value, not income. I am certainly not being critical, but I do think we need to think critically.
The irony, of course, is that these corporations need consumers to spend our money. And, to do that, we need these corporations to spend their money hiring people. If they won’t spend on us, we can’t spend on them. It’s the classic chicken and egg. And right now, they are chickening out on the economy.
During the downturn, companies had to learn how to make do with fewer workers. They had to survive, and we had to sacrifice. But now, the tables have turned. It’s us who have to survive and it’s their turn to sacrifice some of that cash by investing in hiring Americans who need work, like another San Diegan, Jason.
A Navy veteran and a skilled electrician, Jason has not had full-time, consistent employment since 2007. He has worked some, mainly intermittent jobs and kept food on his family’s table. But stable, full-time employment has been unattainable. Earlier this year he made a personal decision that was very difficult – to go work on a military base in Iraq. Jason shouldn’t have to choose between being separated from his family – again – and full-time employment.
People argue that the reason we shouldn’t raise taxes on corporations is so that they can prosper and create jobs, not prosper and hoard cash. It’s simply unfair to keep big business’ taxes low, cut public services, allow those businesses to hoard cash, and not hire and thereby create more need for public services we can’t afford. It’s a formula for failure.
When he first took office mid-recession, the president promoted government stimulus programs to help stabilize our economy. The economic stimulus put money into projects and programs that contributed to our communities, while keeping people employed so they could keep our local economies going.
We will never know for sure how painful our losses would have been without these stimulus programs, but we do know that thousands of people in San Diego County and around the country remained employed because of this shot in the arm. Many of us believed that the stimulus wasn’t bold enough; we want a second round of government investment in infrastructure – schools, roads, ports and energy systems.
But since the initial stimulus program, corporate-funded campaigns to promote austerity surfaced and subsequently cornered the debate about our economy to the detriment – not the benefit – of putting Americans back to work.
So if members of the business lobby and the strange bedfellows they’ve made with the tea party movement aren’t willing to have government lead on creating jobs, then there’s no other place to point the finger than to the corporations that are currently hoarding their cash and ignoring job creation.
Big business can’t have it both ways.
We can debate who caused the recession. We can debate who is to blame for the slow recovery. What isn’t debatable is that America wants to work, and American businesses can and must make that happen.
Lorena Gonzalez is the Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial County Labor Council.