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This morning, federal figures show U.S. unemployment at 7.7%, a slight improvement. And we are hearing new calls for a higher U.S. minimum wage.
Yet, as I picked up a warm-up jacket from the seamstress yesterday, I was again reminded of the vast gap between U.S. wages and those overseas. My new midnight blue warm-up jacket from Wal Mart cost me $16.88, plus tax, and seemed like a bargain for the quality and fit. The label says it was made in Indonesia.
Then I picked it up from the local seamstress, where I had taken it to have the sleeves shortened. Her charge for that simple sewing task was $20.00, plus tax — more than the entire cost to me for the new jacket! Most of the alteration cost was for her labor, plus a few cents for thread, and maybe some to offset the cost of her sewing machine and rent for the shop.
The warm-up jacket was nicely designed and carefully manufactured, made of a beautiful soft fabric, with a white stripe sewed on. It had been shipped thousands of miles, then inventoried and marketed in the U.S., and added a little more profit for Wal Mart.
While our workers deserve a living minimum wage most surely, the dichotomy of labor costs between the U.S. and Indonesia is staggering. Clearly, it will take not just a few years or a generation, but hundreds of years of social evolution to bring any semblence of justice to the relationship of labor costs in the economies of the world. Meanwhile, we must each take care of our own as best wee can, and hope for peace in our time. My fine new warm-up jacket will be a constant reminder to me.
When both political parties talk in terms of creating or replacing jobs lost by what they insist on misrepresenting as the “middle class,” they don’t speak of how we will re-employ low-skilled workers who are NOT candidates for college, management or high-tech industries. Yes, there are many who can benefit from more and better educational and training opportunities, including retraining, and enter or re-enter the middle class. But there are many millions more who were never in the middle class and never will be, because their abilities and capacities are limited, and more suited to decent manual labor, hourly jobs and low-skill positions. They are willing to work and learn, but there won’t be room for everyone in middle management and the lab.
The reality the politicians ignore, and seem afraid to acknowledge, is that the U.S. needs to create millions of new low-skill jobs, and the opportunity to do so sits right in front of us all. Our infrastructure in the U.S. is in bad shape, in need of repair and replacement — roads, bridges, dams, commercial buildings, apartments, homes, our forests damaged by fires, our commmunities damaged by storms. We need to upgrade our airports and build njew railroads. To do all that, and accelerate the rebirth of our economy, We need a new public works program nationally, and a private works program too. Millions who are not capable or ready to achieve middle class status in our society need honest, honorable, decent paying work to support themselves and their families. And they need it now, not in five years. Many returning veterans (and hopefully there will be many and soon) can benefit from that work as well.
What no politician speaks of or has any announced specific plans for is a “working class” jobs program of massive scale, to replace the manufacturing and white-color jobs that have been or will soon be eliminated by new technology or that have gone overseas to low paid foreign workers. Yes, we need a jobs program for the real professional “middle class,” but we desperately need one for the equally real “working class” as well. Where are the plans, and when does the work start?
With the unchecked excesses of Wall Street and the financial markets in mind, and the growing, yawning gap between the “have’s” and burgeoning “have-nots” of American society in mind, maybe it’s time to move to some Americanized version of the German Social Market Economy model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_market_economy). Germany’s hybrid of a U.S.-type mixed economy, with its commitment to free enterprise, together with strong government regulations to protect social services and prevent private excesses, has been in place since after WWII, and pretty successful by most standards. It is NOT socialism, but a modern system that recognizes the pragmatic reality of the strength of a robust private economic sector, with the social protections that economic self-determinism alone cannot assure.
Of course, and I say that because it is self-evident to me, our government needs major reform, if not a new Constitutional Convention, if it is to assume a responsible role in a sane and democratic future. Lop-sided influences need to be removed from the electoral process, starting with federal funding of federal elections, term limits in Congress to restore “citizen government.” Further we need to reform institutions that defeat the “one person/one vote” democratic principle. Kill the obsolete Electoral College system of electing Presidents, that allows election in 11 or 13 “swing states” to determine the Presidency. Consider eliminating the Senate, which is a weak shadow of the old British House of Lords, and represents real estate rather than people, with its two-senator-per-state system that gives the citizens of some states 60 times the voting power of the largest states.
It is time to reform and evolve both our market economy and our representative government, and it must be done soon and together if either, if both, are to remain viable through the 21st century.
How to save money and create jobs Mr. Obama and Congress?
First, bring home tens of thousands of military troops, both from our active war fronts and from over-staffed bases in Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Save billions of the dollars now going overseas that supports them in their pointless current military missions.
Next, either reassign or rehire many of those soldiers as the initial core of a new jobs corps to go to work on rebuilding the failing infrastructure of this country. They have the leadership and discipline and ability to get the job started. Money spent by them will stay in the U.S. Contract private enterprise to create more jobs by providing expertise, equipment and supplies to build bridges, repair roads, restore urban infrastructure, airports and so on. Offer America’s youth who can’t afford college right now, and other unemployed people the opportunity to join the job corps, learn skills and serve the nation.
Mr. President and Congress, the time to start building a Job corps, and relieving a combat corps is — yesterday!