A Right-wing Jobs Program for America

by Jim Hightower

Here’s the core economic problem we’re facing today: Unemployment and underemployment are rampant and entrenched throughout America, stifling any hope for real recovery and threatening the very survival of the essential middle class that holds our society together.

The solution? Our ideologically pure, laissez-fairyland leaders in Washington and various state capitals, along with corporate funded think tank geniuses and Wall Street gurus, are pushing a massive jobs program across America. Great, just what we need!

Uh … no. Unfortunately, theirs is not a program to create jobs, but a coordinated effort to add to America’s jobless hordes by eliminating hundreds of thousands of public-service jobs. If ignorance is bliss, they must be ecstatic!

They’re wallowing in the ecstatic right-wing mythology that prosperity will magically arise if only government budgets can be gutted, mainly by eliminating public employees. Yet, by going on a firing rampage that is targeting everyone from school librarians to NASA engineers, these political and economic elites are shoving the entire U.S. economy back into the Great Recession, or worse.

This is because people who are out of work do not tend to be — how shall I put this? — “robust consumers.” Since consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of our country’s economic growth (and, in so doing, creates America’s jobs), the dogma of deliberately destroying the purchasing power of middle-class wage earners is disastrous. It’s like trying to cure a headache by chopping off your head.

Not content to undercut middle-class consumers by firing them, the extremist ideologues are also slashing jobless payments, food stamps, Medicaid and other safety-net programs that put money directly and quickly into the consumer economy as recipients spend for food, gas and other basics. Cutbacks in these benefits will drain some $37 billion more out of consumer spending this year.

As the middle class slides backward, people are going to be hunting these ideologues with dogs.

But don’t despair entirely, jobseekers, for if you’re among the millions of long-term unemployed Americans who’ve been searching in vain for work, I have a hot tip for you: They’re hiring in Wisconsin!

There is one little catch, though. You have to be a Wisconsin jailbird to get one of these dandy jobs. But that’s no hill for a climber — I’m sure America has plenty of out-of-work folks who’re enterprising enough to move to the Badger State, steal a six pack from a 7-Eleven, go to jail and — voila! — become eligible. I should mention, however, that you won’t get paid for these jobs.

This so-called “work opportunity” is the first tangible product of Gov. Scott Walker’s corporate-scripted mugging of the collective bargaining rights of teachers and other civil servants. He and his legislative cohorts rammed a bill into law this year to strip public employees of their democratic rights in the workplace. So, government managers can now replace them willy-nilly with low-wage workers — even with free prison labor.

Jim Ladwig, the executive honcho of Racine County, has leapt on this like a chicken on a juicy June bug. The day the law took effect, he announced that such jobs as landscaping and snow-shoveling would be transferred from unionized county workers to prisoners. The captives will receive no pay, but they could receive compensation in the form of reduced sentences. “We have a win-win when we use the inmates,” exulted Ladwig.

He’s not the only one thrilled with this scheme to take middle-class paychecks from public employees. The Washington Examiner, a far-right tub-thumper for full-tilt privatization of public services, hailed Racine County’s jailbird ploy as “great news for Wisconsin taxpayers. Hopefully we’ll see more of it.”

So there you have it — the right-wing’s idea of a good jobs program for America. When Walker ran for governor last year, he promised to create 250,000 new jobs, and now he’s delivering. To apply, go directly to jail!

Jim Hightower