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Posted on Jul 6, 2011
Peter Scheer: … It seems the No. 1 number that news organization use to track the economy and the economic recovery is unemployment, but you make the point that there are plenty of people who are employed, and may not earn enough to support themselves, and live in poverty. And you know, what’s a better register of our recovery, or lack thereof?
Sylvia Allegretto: Well, I think there’s three things thus far that are really important. One is jobs, and we know we have not had job creation in the area to the tune that we need. We’re creating some jobs but it’s way too slow to actually put a dent in what actually happened in this economy. Remember at the worst part of this downturn, we were down over 8 million jobs, and thus far we’ve only created a few million of those back. So job losses are still at around 7 million down from where we started before the recession began at the end of 2007. So this is a long time, you know, three, three and a half years we’re going on not creating the jobs that we need to put the people who are unemployed back to work, but remember we’re also not creating the jobs we need just to keep up with the growing labor force. So in essence, we’re down about 11 or 12 million jobs that we actually need to create to get back to a reasonable unemployment level of 4 or 5 percent. So we’re in a huge job crisis that almost no one is talking about. And the private sector has not been creating jobs again, not at the clip that they need to really get this economy to get going in the way it needs to get going, and then we have these huge cuts in the public sector at the state and local levels that are actually working against any type of recovery or expansion.
Peter Scheer: But even if we create those jobs, and there are jobs that you know, the car wash …
Sylvia Allegretto: Right, and that’s the other point. The second point is that the jobs that we are creating are not very good jobs. Where the jobs that we’ve lost, construction and manufacturing, some higher-wage jobs, you know, the jobs that are being created now are jobs that are of less quality. So they are less likely to have benefits, the pay is more likely to be less, they are less likely to have retirement and that type of thing. And of course the third point is that the wages are much less.
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Sylvia Allegretto: Oh absolutely, and people are not spending, people are still very shaky. Again, it’s your vantage point. If your vantage point is the economy from Wall Street, things have been pretty good for you, even with the most recent downturn from the last week or two. Things are very good for you, I mean Wall Street Dow was somewhere below 7,000 in the spring of 2009, and they’ve been above 12,000 consistently and actually approached 14,000 not too long ago. So it looks good to have, their bonuses are back, CEO pay is up, corporate profits are up, but for the average worker, the men and women on Main Street, things are still very shaky. There’s, you know, 14 million unemployed, and there’s double that underemployed. Your wages are going nowhere, the housing crisis continues, foreclosures continue, it’s still very much a serious wreck on Main Street.
Josh Scheer: I want to get into a paper that I read from earlier this year, basically about American’s wealth, and we’re talking about Main Street and Wall Street, and about foreclosures because, really quickly, because I can’t get into the whole paper, but about homeownership, and I know that our editor among others, you know you read any book here that you talk about homeownership as the most important form of wealth for the Main Street people, and now they’re losing that and because they bailed out the banks but they didn’t help us with foreclosure. Basically people are losing their wealth—can we get into that a little bit?
Sylvia Allegretto: Yeah, that’s exactly right, people are losing their wealth, their homes, many have lost their homes, many are upside down on their mortgages today, so foreclosures will continue and in the future and you know basically what’s happening is also credit. People are unable to get the credit that they used to get, so they’re waking up again. It goes back to their paycheck and they’re going wow, I mean is this how I’m supposed to live now, based on this paycheck because I’ve lost all the equity in my home. Again not due to anything they did, but because of the shenanigans that went on in Wall Street and the deregulation of investment and commercial banks and such, and so they’re saying wow this is crazy. I can’t live on this. Let alone if you’ve lost your home, and you’ve lost your job, you have a real economic hurt going on, and your point of the richer getting richer. I mean, the rich have taken almost all the gains in the economic expansion over the last decade or so, so as the economy, even when it’s going well, again the typical and low-wage worker are not being invited to the table when the increased economic pie is being divvied up. And so it is the case that the rich are getting richer at a faster pace now due to what happened in 2008 and 2009.
Peter Scheer: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Sylvia Allegretto: Yeah, this was great.
Peter Scheer: Sylvia Allegretto is a labor economist at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley.
Josh Scheer: Hi, this is Joshua Scheer, and this is Truthdig Radio. We’re here with Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. He directs the center’s research and analysis of economic, political, legal and social impacts of immigration policy in America, and develops policy recommendations designed to further American’s economic security interests. Marshall is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and served on the Virginia Law Review. Well, how’s it going?
Marshall Fitz: Doing well, thanks. How’re you doing?
Josh Scheer: I’m good, so we’re going to get into two pieces the center wrote recently called “Your State Can’t Afford It: The Fiscal Impacts of State Anti-Immigrant Legislation” and then “Keeping the Dream Alive.” Is that good for you?
Marshall Fitz: Sure.
Josh Scheer: All right, first question goes on the first page. The quote is “but as most states wrap up their legislative session for the year, only a handful, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina, actually passed anti-immigrant bills, while 26 others rejected them.” And then basically the question is, why haven’t we heard much of this? We really heard mostly about Arizona’s law; it raised a lot of anger and media coverage, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has kind of held it up, but these other laws have kind of largely gone unnoticed—why is that?
Marshall Fitz: So, there’s I think a variety of factors in play, and one is just the dominance of this issue over the last probably about five years. We’ve seen a surge in state-level activity around immigration. So, I do think there’s actually a little of fatigue both in the reporting on it and I can tell you from advocates on the ground, their perspective, it’s really difficult to kind of maintain the opposition to this drumbeat of anti-immigrant legislation that’s coming through, coming down the pipes in these states. Now, the thing that I think is most remarkable is that despite the prevalence, I mean we’re talking about thousands of anti-immigrant bills that have been filed in states legislatures over the last five years, literally thousands, that only a small handful have actually succeeded and I think that should tell us a couple things. One is that it’s being driven more by ideology and used as a kind of rhetorical ploy by immigrant restrictionists to try to divide and create a wedge within their own constituencies, and two, that once the kind of cooler heads prevail and they take a hard look at how it has worked, for one in Arizona, and how it’s starting to play out now in Georgia. States are stepping back and saying wow, we can’t afford to go down this path. This is a dangerous, dangerous path for us, especially at this time of incredible fiscal uncertainty.
Josh Scheer: Yeah, and one of those things is adding “independent agencies” to basically handle the immigration issue. And the question is, are these “independent agencies” working with the government to handle immigrants and when they’re arrested? And are they influencing the passing of these laws? How much do those “independent agencies,” a guesstimate, how much do they cost?
Marshall Fitz: I don’t think we can answer that question with a kind of categorical sweeping statement, but I think what we can say is that there are enormous hidden costs in this process. Partly from the agencies that will have to be added to the kind of state bureaucracy, some that are coming through the independent. For example, the most obvious and the one that I think has probably been garnering the most attention around the country is the prison industry. You know, private prison industries have blossomed alongside the blossoming of the immigrant detention dynamic that we’ve seen. We now detain 30-35,000 immigrants a year, simply for civil immigration violations, and that of course is a cost, and the prison industry had done a good job of really influencing I think the state legislatures into passing more draconian anti-immigrant legislation in order to house them in the jails that they’re building in those states. So it’s a vicious circle that has I think contributed unfortunately but dramatically to the spread of this type of legislation.
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