Stemming job losses

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(Host) In recent years, Vermonters have been losing their jobs at an alarming rate. Commentator Ellen David Friedman reflects on what this means to the state and how we might reverse the trend.

(Friedman) You may have heard a recent report that the national trend in unemployment might be moderating slightly. But don’t expect Vermonters to feel very upbeat. According to a recent report in the Vermont Economy Newsletter, last year Vermont posted a net job loss for the first time in a decade.

Unemployment is a critical issue for every single one of us – whether presently employed or not – because the social decline that sets in when too many people are jobless affects every aspect of our community life.

Of course there are massive, some would say inexorable, forces at work. The tide of global free trade has been allowed to run very high. For decades, our manufacturing jobs have washed to the shores of low wage countries, and now the pace of that loss has become astonishing. Presidents – both Republican and Democrat – and Congresses – both Republican and Democrat – have brought this about. Every free trade accord has meant job losses in the U.S.

It’s hard not to be cynical about the prospects for change, but we can’t be passive. If we look at the reality in front of us, it seems there are some clear answers. For example, citing from the same report mentioned earlier, we learn that the loss of manufacturing jobs in 2002 was slightly off-set by gains in other sectors, including over 2,500 jobs in education and health services, and a net growth of more than 800 government jobs. It’s a fact that these jobs pay less than manufacturing jobs, and that’s a problem to be addressed.

But there is one great advantage we have with education, health care and government service. We, as a citizenry, can actually make decisions about jobs in these sectors. It is not up to the so-called free market to decide.

Decisions that lead to job growth in these areas are often public decisions. They are made by elected officials. They rely on tax dollars, either directly or in government contracts. We can choose to create jobs when the private sector has chosen to abandon us. In fact. we have. Between 1989 and 1999 there was a net gain of only 900 jobs in the private, for-profit sector in Vermont. But in that same time, the net gain in public and private non-profit sectors was more than 13,600 jobs.

We shouldn’t let politicians tell us that now is the time to cut taxes and cut government down to size. Just the reverse is what’s needed. Let’s control what we can control, and let’s put people back to work.

I’m Ellen David Friedman.

Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the Labor movement for 25 years.

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