The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last Friday that 80,000 jobs were added to the American economy last month, ticking the unemployment rate down slightly to 9 percent. The 80,000 added is a net gain, factoring in 104,000 private jobs added and 24,000 public sector jobs lost. Today on ABCs This Week, conservative columnist George Will said people losing their public sector jobs is a good thing:
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you George and ask you about the unemployment numbers. Is that something of a trend or is that scratching the surface? What difference is that going to make?
WILL: Not much. First of all, 80,000 isnt nearly enough to accommodate even the natural growth month by month of the workforce. There are two bits of good news in there. The 80,000 is a net number. The private sector created 104,000 jobs. The public sector happily shrank by 24,000 jobs. Both of that’s good.
Of course, the other 99 percent of us know, losing a job you wanted (or needed) to keep is never a good thing. It may be years before you find work again. And if you do find work, there’s a good chance you’ll be earning nearly half of what you did before.
Ben Armbuster at ThinkProgress notes that “Conservatives rejoice at public sector job loss because they think it will spur private job creation (and also fulfill their collective fantasy of controlling the ever encroaching tentacles of the federal government).” And there are probably some conservatives who genuinely believe that.
However, as Steve Benen points out, the for Will and conservatives like him, economic goals are philosophical. For progressives, creating jobs is an imperative, because people who are working earn paychecks that they spend on goods and services that boost the economy, and pay taxes that lower the deficit. For Will, and conservatives like him, creating jobs is a nice idea, but “the real priority is shrinking government.”
From that perspective it hardly matters that economic philosophy and goals run counter to reality.
Reality suggests Will and conservatives have it backwards, and the severe public-sector job losses are a major drag on the economy, effectively serving as a counter-stimulus. David Leonhardt recently described this as “an unforced economic error” — the federal government can prevent these layoffs, keep these workers on the job, and help the larger economy, but Republicans refuse. With all of the problems we can’t control, this is one problem we know exactly how to prevent, but choose not to, because, as Will put it, it’s “good” when thousands of public-sector employees are forced into unemployment during a jobs crisis.
Well, it is good, if you’re a conservative. Like I’ve said before, the key is to remember that progressives and conservatives are not talking about the same thing when we’re talking about jobs. If you’re a conservative, losing 24,000 jobs or even losing 200,000 jobs, because some jobs shoudn’t exist.
So we lose a few hundred thousand jobs? So what?
The Republican response to the painful consequences of their budget cuts runs the gamut from “So be it,” to “So what?”
“So be it,” said Speaker John Boehner to news that Republican budget cuts would slash over 200,000 jobs. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s response to Moody’s analyst Mark Zandi’s report that the GOP’s budget cuts would kill 700,000 jobs can be summed up as, “So what?” A confidential Goldman Sachs report also said the GOP’s proposed cuts would threaten recovery, and slow economic growth.
…”What kind of jobs is he talking about?” Cantor asked, “Government jobs?” Again, when progressives and conservatives talk about jobs we are not talking about the same thing.
To progressives, a job where you perform a task or provide a service to earn a paycheck that enables you to take care of your house, raise your family, feed your children, and invest in your family’s future is a “real” job. But to conservatives, a government or government-supported job is not a “real job,” because “real” jobs only exist in the private sector. (And “real” Americans only have “real” jobs, anyway.)
The nearest any Republican has come to speaking the truth about jobs though, like the rest of his party, he had no plan to create jobs was Mitt Romney at CPAC: “Fight for every job! Because every job is a paycheck and paychecks fuel Americans dreams. Without a paycheck, you can’t take care of your family. Without a paycheck you can’t buy school books for your kids, keep a car on the road or help an aging parent make ends meet.”
“So be it.” They’re not real jobs anyway.
In that light, it’s particularly maddening that Republican budget cuts will end up killing more jobs than were created during the Bush era. But it makes perfect sense to Boehner and the House Republicans, because most of the jobs they’re so eager to slash out of existence aren’t real jobs. At least, not in the conservative mind.
It doesn’t matter that you go to a workplace, perform a task or service, and earn a paycheck for that performing task or service. It’s possible you still don’t have a “real job.” Just like not all Americans are “real Americans,” not all jobs are “real jobs.” That’s what Republicans mean when they say “government doesn’t create jobs.”
Boehner’s off-the-cuff remarks. reminded me of a long debate that I once had with a libertarian conservative, who insisted that the government couldn’t create jobs. As it went on, our discourse revealed that his arguments were based on the assumption that jobs created by government can’t really be jobs, because government jobs and jobs created or subsidized by government are not “real jobs,” and “real jobs” are only created in the private sector. If it’s not done for profit, it’s not a “real job,” and probably doesn’t need doing and shouldn’t be done in the first place.
“So be it, ” Boehner said, because to him the jobs his agenda would destroy aren’t “real jobs” in the first place. So, there’s no real economic loss because no “real jobs” are lost. And, by extension, no “real Americans” are hurt because “real Americans” only have “real jobs” in the first place.
Right. Try telling that to the people who’ve lost those jobs.
For progressives, a good jobs report would show well over 150,000 jobs being created per month. For conservatives, losing 24,000 jobs is a “good” jobs report, because those jobs aren’t “real jobs,” shouldn’t have existed anyway.
That used to confuse and disturb me. Now that I understand conservatives — like George Will, Eric Cantor and John Boehner — it’s less confusing, but no less disturbing.