We Need a Robust Jobs Bill Now

By Shyama Venkateswar, Ph.D.*

The failure to pass the Obama Administration’s $450 billion American Jobs Act was a great set-back for economic recovery efforts and the U.S. workforce, but especially for working women.

The Act highlights three elements of critical importance: public sector employment, unemployment insurance, and the retooling and retraining of the jobless. The Obama Administration is breaking the bill into installments in a continuing effort to secure funding for needed programs and opportunities, prominent among them a $60 billion investment in roads, bridges, and other long-term infrastructure projects.

In the midst of these efforts comes former President Bill Clinton’s timely new book, Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy. The release comes at a crucial moment – a time when anti-government sentiment is being  whipped into a frenzy and dominating the national political debate, as reflected in the quick disposal of Obama’s bill, despite a majority of public support. Clinton’s book backs many of the remedies contained in the American Jobs Act and views these efforts as a prescription for America’s crumbling economy.

 “With the world as it is, you have to fight the fight you can win, and the fight you can win is economics… The answer for America has got to be to do the things that we know are good economics,” Clinton told the Financial Times.[1]

Clinton’s “good economics” are similar to those contained in the Jobs Act. He favors government spending on infrastructure, job training, and developing alternative energy sources like biofuel, solar, and wind power.

Since its failure to pass the Jobs Act in the Senate last month, the fight is now being fought in installments as the Administration tries to push the bill through in segments. One of the most critical installments is the $35 billion that would be budgeted to allow state and local governments to rehire unemployed public-sector workers. This $35 billion funding stream would be fueled by a surcharge of 0.5% on taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year, and would raise more than $450 billion over a decade. [2] The White House says the plan could save or create about 400,000 education jobs. [3]

GOP Leaders argue that the Jobs Bill tax increase for those earning more than $1 million a year would be “more of the same” from Obama, whose stimulus measure in 2009, they  are branding as an “expensive failure.” "It's not a jobs bill. In our view, it's another stimulus bill," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Fox News before the Senate vote on October 11th.

Most economists, on the other hand, have predicted that without a stimulus plan such as Obama’s, the economy is likely to relapse into recession next year. [See Paul Krugman and Moody's, among others.]

The “jolt to the economy” promised by President Obama is direly needed by everyone, as the unemployment rate has been blocked at 9% or more since April 2009.[4] But it is especially needed by women, who have been significantly slower than men to recover after the economic crisis. Women have lost 264,000 jobs since the economy began to show signs of recovery in 2009 while men have gained 1.1 million. Over the past two years, women’s overall unemployment rate increased from 7.7% to 8.1% while men’s dropped from 9.9% to 8.8%.[5] Women’s losses in the recovery have been largely driven by the loss of public sector jobs; women have lost 407,000 public sector jobs during the recovery. [6] While women represented just over half (57.2 percent) of the public workforce at the end of the recession, they lost the vast majority (71.2 percent) of the 572,000 jobs cut in this sector between June 2009 and September 2011.[7]

The American Jobs Act would budget $30 billion towards preventing 280,000 teacher layoffs. This would disproportionately benefit women, who make up 78% of pre-K -12 teachers. The Jobs Act also proposes a “Pathways Back to Work Fund,” which would support employment programs and work-based job training. This funding is vital, especially to vulnerable groups such as Black and Hispanic female teens, the only groups of teens whose unemployment rates increased more during the recovery than during the recession.[8] This initiative has the potential to provide employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of low-income women, many of whom are single mothers.

In addition, the Act’s proposed extension of unemployment insurance would prevent 2.6 million women from losing their benefits.

Clinton recommended that we fight what he calls, “30 years of bipolar, anti-government politics (that) have given us a severe case of collective attention deficit disorder." These bipolar antics make it extremely difficult to move us forward. In this time of economic stagnation, unemployment, and growing income inequality, the current deadlock is simply unaffordable.

*Shyama Venkateswar, Ph.D., is Director of Research and Programs at the National Council for Research on Women. Research for this article was provided by NCRW intern Sarah Kaufman.

[1] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/e0c1418c-f526-11e0-9023-00144feab49a.html#axzz1d9PZCJ5w. “Bill Clinton Talks to Simon Schama” The Financial Times Magazine. Schama, Simon.

[2] A new 5.6 percent tax on annual income above $1 million would begin in 2013. The tax would be applied to wages and investment income. In 2013, an estimated 392,000 U.S. households would see their taxes increase by an average of $110,500. Over the next decade, the tax increase would raise about $453 billion. http://www.daily-chronicle.com/2011/10/11/senate-kills-jobs-bill/alfzwxv/?page=3. “Senate Kills Jobs Bill.” Taylor, Andrew and Feller, Ben.

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/04/us-usa-jobs-obama-idUSTRE79247Y20111004. “Obama Challenges Congress to Vote on Jobs Bill.” MacInnis, Laura.

[5] http://www.nwlc.org/resource/modest-recovery-largely-leaves-women-behind. “Modest Recovery Largely Leaves Women Behind.” National Women’s Law Center. October 7, 2011.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://bls.gov/ces/cesbtabs.htm. NWLC calculations from U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Employment Statistics Survey, Table B-5: Employment of women on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted.

[8] http://www.nwlc.org/resource/economic-recoverys-untold-story-black-and-hispanic-female-teens-face-growing-employment-cri. “The Economic Recovery’s Untold Story: Black and Hispanic Female Teens Face a Growing Employment Crisis.” National Women’s Law Center. August 30,2011.



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