President Barack Obama, facing formidable challenges to his re-election bid in 2012 as well as the potential further erosion of the Democratic Party base in the Senate and House of Representatives, unveiled the American Jobs Act during a special address to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8. On Sept. 12 he announced the submission of a $447 billion proposal to Congress that is purportedly designed to create jobs amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Yet will this plan actually create jobs without any specific goals or timetables?
Can the U.S. capitalist system generate long-term employment without a fundamental restructuring of the priorities of the political economy, which are geared toward maintenance of the status quo and maximization of profits for those who control the means of production?
With African Americans and Latinos/as having unemployment rates far exceeding that of the white population, will this plan seriously address the inherit racism and national oppression that lie at the center of the disparate impact of capitalist economic policy in the current period? Or is this merely another campaign ploy to inspire and potentially galvanize the base of the Democratic Party electorate to turn out at the polls in November 2012?
In order to address these questions it is essential that workers and oppressed people inside the United States be organized independently in order to raise economic and social demands that speak directly to their needs. At present the crisis of unemployment must be viewed within the broader context of the character of the current phase of capitalist globalization.
Unemployment highest among African Americans
Raising the issue of jobs must begin from the framework of guaranteeing full employment and the elimination of poverty. Neither of these issues was addressed by Obama in his speech before Congress or in his Labor Day talk in Detroit on Sept. 5.
The overall unemployment rate in the U.S. now stands officially at 9.1 percent. This means approximately 15 million to 16 million people are seeking work and cannot find employment.
Yet once the number of discouraged workers and part-time employees is taken into consideration, the number of people needing jobs is more than 30 million. At the same time within the Latino/a community, the official jobless rate is 11.3 percent.
Topping all other national groups are African Americans, whose unemployment rate is officially 16.7 percent, up from 15.9 percent in July.
For African-American males the rate of unemployment grew a full percentage point in August to 18 percent. For African-American youth between the ages of 16 and 19, the rate of joblessness was officially calculated at 46.5 percent, rising steeply from 39.2 percent in just one month.
Although 155,000 African Americans reportedly got hired in August, this was offset by the growing number of people seeking employment where none was available.
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, said the CBC was going to “offer suggestions to President Obama before his address to the nation on jobs.” Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, the African-American legislative group has already submitted 40 jobs proposals, none of which was taken up by the administration or the broader House of Representatives.
CBC member Maxine Waters of California, who has criticized the administration for not addressing the specific impact of the economic crisis on African Americans — although she is on record as supporting the American Jobs Act — noted that no specific mention was made of the disparate impact on this community, which has suffered the most under the era of low-wage capitalism.
Structural inequality & growing poverty
Poverty has been increasing in the United States at an alarming rate, especially within African-American communities. A recent report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies documents this fact with U.S. Census data from 2010.
Entitled “The Lost Decade,” referring to the 2000s, the report says, “Concentrated poverty has risen substantially since 2000. About one in 11 residents of American metropolitan areas, or 22.3 million people, now live in a neighborhood where 30 percent or more live in poverty.”
In addition, the report points out,“The number of people in high-poverty neighborhoods increased by nearly 5 million since 2000, when 18.4 million metropolitan residents (7.9 percent of the total) lived in high-poverty neighborhoods. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of people in poverty grew by 10 million, from 33 million to 43 million, raising the poverty rate from 11.3 percent to 14.3 percent.”
With specific reference to the nationally oppressed in the U.S., the study reports, “African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians are substantially more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods than non-Hispanic whites. One in four African Americans (7.6 million people), one in six Hispanics (7.1 million people), and one in eight American Indians (150,000 people) in metropolitan America live in a Census tract in which 30 percent or more of the population is in poverty.”
According to the report, it is important to acknowledge: “One out of nine foreign-born residents also lives in high-poverty neighborhoods. These ratios starkly contrast with the estimated one in 25 non-Hispanic whites (6.3 million people) who lives in one of these tracts. Like the general trends, these high numbers represent a substantial setback for African Americans and Latinos compared with progress in the 1990s for non-Hispanic whites, most of whom are native [U.S.] born.”
National question cannot be resolved under capitalism
These stark figures, provided by the U.S. government itself, illustrate that the current trend within the capitalist system will inevitably lead to greater impoverishment of working people, especially those from the oppressed nations. The American Jobs Act is not designed to address these disparities, and will perhaps only serve as a campaign slogan for the Democratic Party.
Moreover, there have been two attempts by Congress to mandate full employment in the United States. The Full Employment Bill was watered down by the time it was enacted as the Employment Act of 1946. When unemployment began to rise in the 1970s, however, some of the provisions that had been deleted from the bill were restored in the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.
The fact that there is no discussion by the administration or Congress on implementing the 1978 law, which requires the federal government to create employment when the jobless rate exceeds 4 percent, is indicative of the lack of political will on the part of politicians from both ruling class parties as well as the bourgeoisie to eliminate unemployment, let alone poverty.
Obama’s plan to provide further tax incentives for businesses to hire is a proven failure. State policy since the Reagan era, this has been escalated since the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001.
The enormous growth of military spending since the Bush administration has run parallel with higher rates of unemployment and poverty. The same holds for the massive multi-trillion-dollar bailouts of financial institutions and transnational corporations since 2008.
It is only under a socialist system where a planned economy is instituted that the questions of national oppression, poverty and full employment can be adequately addressed. It is the goal of the capitalist system to maximize profit and further weaken the working class, not provide jobs and prosperity for the majority of the people in society.
Consequently, the workers and nationally oppressed must abandon the ruling-class parties in the U.S. and advance their own political program aimed at eliminating national oppression, poverty and joblessness. This can only be done with a conscious program of mass political education, organization and mobilization to not only defend the gains of the past but to fashion nonexploitative societies of the future.
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