September 5, 2011
Historically, Labor Day was a direct result of the bloody Pullman strike of 1894 when the railroads faced off with striking railway workers. The extended weekend is a celebration of that labor movement and a day in which everyone should be watching the long parade of 14 million officially unemployed Americans. This rapidly growing number of unemployed has reached an equivalent of the combined populations of Wyoming, Vermont and Illinois.
Our political leaders and most importantly those congressional zealots, who are utterly out of touch with our national struggle and economic hardship, should be mindful that this Labor Day is not a celebration; it’s about the indignity of being out of work, the humiliation and private shame of losing one’s home, and like the Pullman strike, about the quickly rising collective resentment that if left unaddressed is sure to ignite an ugly response.
In Chicago, where 45 percent of single family homes are worth less than the mortgages owed, the economic horizon is bleak on all counts. The congressional passivity of our severe and worsening unemployment crisis has understandably resulted in an anxious grip of pessimism. The profound urgency and economic priorities for these swelling ranks, leaves little room and zero patience for more Republican wrangling that places a higher priority on the GOP’s election debate and partisan posturing than on creating jobs or working with the president on the job crisis.
The GOP’s ideological opposition to anything and everything Obama, has made transparent their flagrant disregard for the presidency and most importantly, for workers. Everyone in America already knows that nothing Obama suggests will be acceptable to his republican opponents. Regardless of whether you’re a deep dish or thin crust pizza person, the sound bite politics of a deeply flawed Republican field has already shown that there is nothing substantive or new forthcoming. While the nation shrinks, they’ll continue to insist that we cannot afford to do the things necessary to create jobs—except cut tax.
The reason for many, if not most, who may choose to watch the upcoming GOP debates is either to find out just how much worse they plan to make matters, or for the low minded comedy of watching them rip at each other. No one really expects a meaningful dialogue about substantive ideas.
These are the Republicans who’ve taken the reins of congress, held our economy hostage in the debt ceiling crisis, had the American credit rating downgraded and now, clearly misjudged the priorities of voters who can hardly afford to listen to prime time posturing, more anti-government rhetoric and cut, cut, cut macroeconomic concepts, while having no food on their tables.
America needs substantive solutions and leadership that puts the health of America above partisanship. In an excellent Wall Street Journal piece, S. Mitra Kalita explains new research conducted by Janet Currie of Princeton University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University that shows a direct correlation between foreclosure rates and the health of residents in Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey. Published last month, by the National Bureau of Economic Research the paper concludes that each rise of 100 foreclosures corresponds to a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Notable economist, Joseph Stiglitz and others, warned early on that the first stimulus bail out was not likely to be sufficiently adequate to succeed. Congressional plotting, posturing and partisan obstructionism has since made matters worse and our justifiable anxiousness has now seriously impacted consumer demand beyond those initially unaffected.
Ramping up job growth must take top priority. That means that immediate and long term solutions must be implemented. Congress should follow the president’s lead to combine private and public investment in large-scale infrastructure projects that yield a high multiplier on our investment and not mere tax cuts for the already wealthy.
Following this first step, the foreclosures crisis must be immediately addressed. Mortgage relief is essential to the house hold balance sheet. Urgently, and before matters become worse, borrowers in good standing as well as troubled borrowers are in need of principle reduction relief, as well as refinance and federal mortgage assistance programs that can help to stabilize the uncertainty and prevent a looming second free fall of the market.
The need for legislation to provide homeowners a remedy is essential. Giving homeowners the right to reduce their debt through recognized legal processes would provide additional incentives for lenders to work with borrowers. This is not a radical or new concept at all. Congress, in 1986 passed a law that allowed family farmers to modify their mortgages in response to a similar foreclosure crisis. The program has been so successful that it was made permanent law with bipartisan support in 2005.
This is not welfare or a gift. The misfortune, conditions, humiliation and hardships endured in this mortgage crisis by those who have lost, or are about to lose their homes, not only stand to lose or have lost the investment in their home, but their savings too. The real-estate meltdown and recession has for most, eviscerated their savings in a vain attempt to overcome circumstances not of their making. These are not just sad conditions to be endured, this is an urgent problem which, if left unaddressed will substantially impede economic growth.
It is time the American people demand that congressional representatives go beyond the wrongheaded political practices that have brought our economy back once again, to the brink of collapse. America’s bills will get paid, over time, by tax increases and spending cuts that are across the board fair, once the economy recovers.
Politically passive and disaffected voters that had initially tuned out these issues, are now beginning to see that it is only a matter of time before this downward spiral encompasses them too. Greed over people has run its course in American politics and lip service is no longer enough.