When I grew up in Chicago, the daughter of a furniture salesman and a Chicago Public Schools teacher, the American dream was alive and well.
We could afford a modest home in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. Back then, a man could work in the steel mills on Chicago’s South Side — one good union job with family health care benefits and a decent pension — and live a middle-class life. The family could own a home, buy a car, send the kids to college.
It was the 1950s, and anything seemed possible if you were willing to work hard. Incomes were going up for everyone, income inequality was shrinking, and Americans were experiencing the greatest growth in living standards in history. For most working families, the American dream was within reach.
Today, after decades of attacks on organized labor, passage of tax policies that favor wealthy individuals and corporations, growing disparity in income, the squandering of a budget surplus and the turning of a blind eye to Wall Street greed and recklessness, that dream is drowning in a sea of joblessness.
Americans want to work, and they need good jobs if we expect to successfully compete in the 21st-century global economy.
President Barack Obama has made it clear that we are far from helpless in the face of our daunting but man-made economic challenges. He has proposed a jobs bill that would immediately improve people’s lives and jump-start the economy.
The answer to this crisis is surprisingly simple. If you want to create jobs, create jobs. More jobs for teachers, construction workers, our youth, the long-term unemployed and veterans. Those people then become job creators.
Yes, the real job creators are ordinary Americans with money in their pockets who can go out and buy things. Demand is what is missing in the marketplace. Businesses don’t need more “confidence”; they need more customers in order to justify more hiring.
The president also wants to extend a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits, putting more dollars in the pockets of people who will go out and spend them. It’s not rocket science.
I’ve introduced the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act to create 2.2 million immediate jobs, a number estimated to reduce unemployment by 1.3 percent. Some of the ideas have been incorporated in the president’s plan, and others would go further.
My bill creates a School Improvement Corps for needed school rehabilitation, a Park Improvement Corps to put youth to work on public land conservation projects, a Health Corps to hire health care workers in underserved areas, a Community Corps to do needed work in our communities such as housing rehab, and a Neighborhood Heroes Corps to hire teachers, police officers and firefighters.
Where appropriate, priority is given in my bill to hiring the unemployed, particularly the 2 million who have exhausted their unemployment benefits (the 99ers) and veterans. My bill also encourages “Buy American” efforts and would get funding out the door within 90 days to put millions of Americans to work. Every dollar spent in this bill is connected to a job.
The American people understand that job creation is the top priority today. In fact, by a margin of more than 2-to-1, they say that, right now, jobs are more important than debt reduction.
The reality is that jobs equal debt reduction — more people paying taxes, fewer people taking benefits, more people buying goods and services, more people being hired to meet the demand, more growth in the economy. Congress needs to do its job getting more Americans their jobs.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is Chief Deputy Minority Whip and served on the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.