One of the things that bothered me about the ‘stimulus’ bill (other than it not being called an employment bill) is that there was a focus on things being ‘shovel ready.’ Not only did this imply that the depression* would be short-term (whereas un-, underemployment, and flat wages are largely ongoing structural problems), but ‘shovel ready’ also implied that keeping state and local budgets stable–not laying people off and cancelling orders with private contractors–was out of bounds (thanks Senator Nelson!). Atrios sums it up well:
I’m personally a bit tired of hearing about all of the problems with shoveling money out the door. It isn’t that hard. My local transit authority has had to cancel most of its on the shelf capital projects due to failure to receive planned revenue from tolling a highway. Those projects are basically shovel ready. They were scheduled. They aren’t happening. I bring this up because it’s what I know, not because I think my local transit authority is the most important thing in the world. Fix some bridges, fix some sewers, fix some train tracks. Just do it.
But it’s not just capital projects being cancelled. When state and local governments decide to act like little Herbert Hoovers, they end up increasing unemployment and acting as another drag on the economy. Consider this about teachers:
Superintendents, education professors and people seeking work say teachers are facing the worst job market since the Great Depression. Amid state and local budget cuts, cash-poor urban districts like New York City and Los Angeles, which once hired thousands of young people every spring, have taken down the help-wanted signs.
Even upscale suburban districts are preparing for huge levels of layoffs. School officials and union leaders estimate that more than 150,000 teachers nationwide could lose their jobs next year, far more than any other time, including the last major financial crisis of the 1970s….
At the University of Pennsylvania, most of the 90 aspiring teachers who graduated last weekend are jobless. Many had counted on offers from the Philadelphia public schools but had their interviews canceled this month after the district announced a hiring freeze.
Keep in mind, the teacher layoffs are occurring because of budget cuts, not appropriate personnel decisions (and I’ve never heard of a district that won’t hire teachers if they were to have the money to do so. Most schools need teachers). And the new hires are not just for expansion, but also to keep place and replace retirements and other forms of attrition. This means students have few teachers and larger class sizes, which is not good for learning.
Regarding ‘shovel ready’, these jobs are very ready–and obviously the layoffs can be halted with the stroke of a pen. Or we could fire more people during a depression and hurt education.
Herbert Hoovers everywhere….