Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bushonomics at Work
I suspect it will vanish with nary a ripple in the wider media world, but this Detroit News article from today reads like a devastating indictment of Bush economic policies--and opens up a new potential line of attack for the Democrats. As a workforce development researcher, this is a piece I've been waiting awhile to see anywhere:

Tax Cut Impact: Job training cuts shut some poor out of work

Some key points:
Michigan has lost 241,000 more jobs than it created since the country went into recession in March 2001 -- the worst job deficit of any state in the nation.
This year, it also lost $6.2 million in federal funding for centers that train and provide assistance to the unemployed. Among those affected by this cut are the state's poorest, many of whom lack the training and skills to compete in the workplace.

But cuts in job training programs within the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor are not unique to Michigan.
Federal job training budgets have dropped $597 million during the Bush administration, making it more difficult for those living in poverty to find work and get off government assistance.
The funding cuts were made as Congress and the administration pushed through more than $600 billion in tax cuts that went primarily to those making more than $288,800. The money cut from job training is less than 1 percent of the tax breaks received this year by those earning an average of more than $1 million, according to an analysis of the Bush tax cuts by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
To offset the loss of the tax revenue, the administration has amassed record federal deficits and trimmed social spending.
The job training programs are among those that have been cut, frozen or scaled back during the Bush administration. America's working poor have seen any benefits they received from the tax cuts eclipsed by the loss in services.[emphasis mine]

For example, the poor find it more difficult to obtain government help with affordable housing, child care or energy assistance. They are also more likely to experience hunger, homelessness and chronic need.
The decline in job training funds frustrates Sharon Parry, who operates a one-stop jobs center in Canton, Ohio.

"If I spend a dollar training somebody, I'm going to get $3 back from it," she said. That's because the programs reduce dependency on long-term government assistance and can make taxpayers out of the new workers, she said.

There's so much rich material in here for Kerry and other progressives to seize upon, I almost don't know where to start. You have the solid return-on-investment for focused job training, squandered in favor of a "de-distributive" transfer of wealth from public spending on training (which also helps the economy: a majority of employers surveyed consistently complain that even in slack job markets, they can't find sufficiently skilled workers) to tax cuts for millionaires; and the usual upraised middle finger in the face of American workers just trying to get jobs and take care of their families--the self-reliant dream upon which the Republican philosophy is supposedly based.

It's tough to frame the tax cut issue in a way that favors Democrats, but this could be how to do it. There's not much appeal to sentimentality here (a big no-no, they keep telling me, in trying to "sell" anti-poverty stories, and I tend to agree), just a level-headed argument that certain choices do much more for the common good than others--and the Bush administration and Republican absolutists in Congress are not making these choices.

A final point: job training has proven appeal to voters. The Workforce Alliance has done extensive polling in swing states and has actually found that even a large number of Republicans feel that helping unemployed and under-employed workers improve their earning power is a better use of public funds than tax cuts!

But I'm probably just naive in wishing for a campaign to be fought along lines like these, rather than 30 year-old memos, the definition of the Cambodian border and whose "body language" was better at the Potemkin debates.

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