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Economic Forum Outlines Sluggish Economy but Offers Few Solutions PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:00
Left-leaning organizations argued at a forum last week that the economy – on a national and local level – isn’t recovering quickly enough but offered few solutions. On January 17, Working Families Win, Progressive Action for the Common Good, the Quad City Federation of Labor, and 21 other organizations held the town-hall meeting “Higher Expectations for Iowa’s Working Families” at St. Ambrose University.

The meeting focused on the recession that began in March 2001. Although the recession technically ended in November of that same year, the economy hasn’t rebounded quickly, according to David Osterberg, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project.

Osterberg said that America didn’t reach pre-recession job levels until December 2004. In Iowa, from March 2001 to November 2005, only 11,200 new jobs were created, according to Osterberg. He compared that to the period after the recession of 1990-1, when 125,000 new jobs were created in Iowa in a comparable 56-month period.

“In George Bush’s first four years in office, we created no jobs,” Osterberg said to an audience of roughly 40 people.

Osterberg said that in December 2001, the Census Bureau reported 1.7 million jobs lost in America, beginning in March of the same year. The following two years America lost another 624,000 jobs. In 2004, 2.2 million jobs were created, with the number of jobs overall reaching pre-recession levels. Another 2.2 million jobs were created over this past year.

“The 2.2 million we got this [past] year is okay, except it’s 2.2 million new jobs not over one year, but over five years,” Osterberg said. “That is why the economy is not doing very well.”

Osterberg noted that in the eight years of the Clinton-Gore administration, America gained 23 million jobs.

Over the past year, the unemployment rate has actually grown in Iowa, from 4.6 percent to 4.8 percent from November 2004 to November 2005, according to the Iowa Policy Project’s The State of Working Iowa (found on (http://www.iowapolicyproject.org).

The situation is better in Illinois in terms of new jobs. The Labor Research Association (http://www.laborresearch.org) reported that the state’s unemployment rate went from 6.1 percent to 5.3 percent from November 2004 to November 2005.

Osterberg also bemoaned the quality of the new jobs. The major declining sectors, according to The State of Working Iowa, had a mean annual wage of $36,201, with 67.5 percent of workers in those sectors receiving health-care benefits. On the other hand, major gaining sectors only had a mean annual wage of $29, 913, with 49.3 percent of workers having health-care benefits. But those numbers were brought down by the second fastest-growing sector, leisure and hospitality, with annual earnings of $11,047 and 25.6 percent with health-care coverage.

Lack of health care is another key issue, according to Osterberg. Currently, 15.7 percent of the U.S. population has no health insurance, according to The State of Working Iowa, citing the Census Bureau. In 2003, 10.4 percent of the Iowa population and 14.3 percent of the Illinois population fell into the same category.

Osterberg believes the situation is actually worse. The Census Bureau surveys Americans to estimate the number of people without health care, but Osterberg said it counts people who only have medical-discount cards.

Medical-discount cards are not health insurance, Osterberg said. As the name suggests, they only offer discounts at select service providers. Consumers can find ads in the newspaper, magazines, or online for discount cards and confuse them for insurance. What many people do not know is that they have to pay for the full cost of service up-front and are responsible for claims. In some cases, the cost of a card is more than the maximum benefits suggested in ads, Osterberg said.

But some conservative groups say that the health-care “crisis” in America is overblown. “Being uninsured in America is largely a matter of choice,” Devon Herrick of the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis said in an August article in the Wall Street Journal. “The greatest and growing problem of the uninsured is among families who can afford health insurance” but choose not to buy it.

The State of Working Iowa said that in 2002, between 14 percent and 21 percent of all Iowa families had before-tax incomes that were insufficient to cover basic household and work-related expenses.

Although the forum outlined problems, the solutions offered at the meeting were geared more toward citizen activism rather than changing the situation.

“We need to get out there and start spreading the truth; otherwise we’ll just keep talking to ourselves,” one audience member said.

Working Families Win, a project of Americans for Democratic Action Education Fund, offered sign-up sheets to host a house meeting for friends and families to “set the agenda for working families.” Other ideas included writing to candidates for public office about economic issues and asking community organizations, churches, labor unions, and civic groups to endorse the Working Families Win project (http://www.workingfamilieswin.org).

“I think citizen action to counteract policies that are unresponsive to good jobs, health protection, and security is solidly American behavior,” Osterberg said. “It and voting is [sic] how we exercise democracy in our country.”
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