How to Actually Improve our Economy? Try investing in it.
Last week, when Mitt Romney effectively called for fewer firefighters, police, and teachers, the buzzword used to describe his remarks was "gaffe"-- as if he simply misspoke, rather than acurately reflecting a key part of his campaign platform.
In reality, Romney was bluntly revealing a core component of the slash-the-government-at-all-costs brand of conservatism that has taken over the Republican Party. When Tea Party activists and their adherents in Congress and state houses call for deep cuts to government spending, they're calling for massive layoffs of educators, first responders, and health care workers.
Cue New York Times columnist Paul Krugman: "Conservatives love to pretend that there are vast armies of government bureaucrats doing who knows what; in reality, a majority of government workers are employed providing either education (teachers) or public protection (police officers and firefighters)."
Calling for deep budget cuts is, in fact, calling to fire teachers, police, and firefighters.
In Oregon, alone, there are plenty of bleak stories and images that paint the picture of these budget cuts. Though state and local leaders (and voters) think they might save some money upfront by making these cuts, they result in harmful--even dangerous--effects that are much more costly in the end. Consider, for one, how when we cut school funding, we end up paying more in prison costs.
In fact, we don't even have to look long-term to understand how these policies are hurting our economy now. Americans overwhelmingly agree that unemployment is one of the most important issues to our economic health (82%, according to Gallup.) But these budget-cutting policies are only slowing our economic recovery.
After hitting a peak rate of 11.6% unemployment in Oregon in 2009, unemployment rates have steadily decreased to a current rate of 8.4%. That's good news, and you can see this trend reflected clearly in the employment numbers for the private sector.
Our private sector employment numbers continue to rebound on a very steady uptick. This means that our stubborn unemployment rate is largely owing to an increasing unemployment rate of our government employees.
Krugman notes this as a national trend in his column:
"[T]he reality is that private-sector job growth has more or less matched the recoveries from the last two recessions; the big difference this time is an unprecedented fall in public employment, which is now about 1.4 million jobs less than it would be if it had grown as fast as it did under President George W. Bush."
"And, if we had those extra jobs, the unemployment rate would be much lower than it is — something like 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent. It sure looks as if cutting government when the economy is deeply depressed hurts rather than helps the American people."
This is especially true for many rural communities, who rely on schools, prisons, and health facilities for a larger percentage of their economy. These layoffs have major ripple effects through the whole community--a laid off teacher, nurse, or corrections officer can't spend money at local businesses, further dampening the economy.
If we want our state and national unemployment rates to decrease, the fastest way to see that number budget is to stop cutting teachers, police, and firefighters--the exact opposite of what so many Republican leaders have been promoting, nationally and in Oregon.