Budget cuts will slow economy
Counting the Cost
There is lots of buzz about our nation’s “economic recovery” in these first weeks of 2013. The stock market has been rising, some would say even soaring. We postponed the fiscal cliff crisis, albeit only for a few weeks—March is the new deadline.
The tone and tenor of debt ceiling conversations has shifted slightly, though this will not be an issue easily negotiated. President Barack Obama says that raising the debt ceiling to pay old bills is the right thing to do; Republicans in the House showed no reluctance in authorizing spending for two wars and other matters. Now they don’t want to pay for it.
Recovery? For the first time since 2009 our economy shrunk in the last quarter of 2012, largely because of cuts in defense spending (that were not balanced by increased spending in other areas), and a sluggish world economy that could not absorb U.S. exports. Also, inventory grew slowly, suggesting that some retailers are pessimistic about the level of spending this year.
Some economists suggest that this drag is a one-time thing since part of the drag has occurred because of factory and retail store shutdowns due to Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, they say that the economy should adjust to defense spending cuts rather quickly. And they cite strong consumer spending and business investment in the fourth quarter as positives.
Even with the fourth-quarter shrinkage, growth in 2012 was higher than growth in 2011, suggesting that we are on the right path to economic recovery.
Just a minute, though. If the economy contracts because of a cut in defense spending, what will happen when federal spending is cut by 7 to 10 percent, either through automatic cuts or budget cutting negotiations. Already, federal departments are making contingency plans for cuts, figuring out ways that three people can do the work of two, and ways programs may be consolidated.
While one quarter of contraction is no cause for alarm, it is certainly cause for concern. Two more quarters of contraction, however mild, will lead us into a recession.
There are other factors of concern as we look ahead. Everyone will get a 2 percent pay cut because the Social Security tax has returned to prior levels, after we have experienced cuts for two years. A family earning $50,000 a year has $1,000 less to spend, and it has already shown up in paychecks for those who are paid biweekly.
Less disposable income means less consumer spending, which means the possibility of economic slowdown since consumer spending drives more than two-thirds of the economy.
Another factor in the possibility of economic slow-down is the troubled employment situation.
Although unemployment rates are lower than they were two years ago, an overall unemployment rate of more than 7 percent is unacceptable.
That means that the African American unemployment rate is likely to remain between 13 and 14 percent, officially, and more than 25 percent unofficially. While we can certainly point to improvement in the employment situation, the economy is not generating enough jobs to lower unemployment rates. Instead we are treading water.
Congress has not enacted the American Jobs Act, which President Obama introduced in 2011, because they say it costs too much. This is a case of being penny wise and pound foolish. Employed people pay taxes. Employed people contribute to their communities. Gainfully employed people avoid the social pathologies that come with unemployment.
Albert Camus once said, “Without work all life is rotten.” Studies show that unemployed people experience a loss of self-esteem, societal alienation, and depression, among other things. A jobs creation program would be good both for morale and the economy.
Would this be a make-work program? Not necessarily. President Obama spoke about our decaying infrastructure in his 2008 campaign, and if you’ve recently driven on our interstate highways, you can testify to the way that infrastructure has deteriorated. Why not put people to work to repair infrastructure, and work in schools and libraries? Why not put our nation back to work?
The budget cuts Congress insists on may well push our economy back into recession. On the other hand, increased spending on job programs will mean increased consumer spending and therefore economic recovery. The choice is between recession and economic growth. Those who claim to have the best interests of our nation at heart seem not to support a path that will lead us to economic growth. That’s a sorry commentary on the leadership of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.
Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and author.
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Discussions of the fiscal cliff also include discussions about ways to change Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to save money. One of the proposals is to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70.
After all, some argue, there is nothing magic about 65 or 67, so why not push the rate up to 70?
The difference is the kind of work we do. I can’t imagine that I will ever stop talking and writing, advanced age notwithstanding.
When Beyoncé Knowles sang the Etta James song “At Last” at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the song could have had several meanings. At last, we have an African American president? At last, the muscle of the Black vote has been flexed? At last, there is some hope for our country to come together with the mantra “Yes We Can.”
The Senate’s Gang of Eight have put together an 844-page monstrosity known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, legislation that President Barack Obama says he “basically approves” of.
The crafters of this essentially unreadable bill were senators Dick Durbin (Illinois), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).
African American students achieve at a different level than White students. Test scores are lower, as are high school and college completion rates, and the number of African Americans attending four-year institutions is falling. The rate of African American suspensions and expulsions from K-12 schools is higher than that of other groups. By almost any metric, there are gaps between African American students and White or Asian students (Latinos achieve at about the same rate as African Americans).
I don’t know where CNN’s John King got the information that a suspect in the Boston bombing was “a dark-skinned male,” but beyond apologizing he needs to explain himself.
How many sources gave him the false tip? If it was fewer than two, then he violated a basic journalism rule. Who were these sources (if you don’t want to out them publicly, tell your editor)? Did King understand that he used the kind of racial/ethnic coding that once got people, even uninvolved and innocent people, lynched?