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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Bush Not Talking About Manufacturing Jobs

Posted by Seamus

As my first guest post for the Swing State Project, it seems fairly appropriate that it be a followup to the State of the Union given last night. Probably everybody reading this knows about the miserable job situation in America. Since Bush took office, we have lost nearly 3 million jobs. Combine this with the fact that nearly 4 million Americans have lost their health insurance, and you can see that millions of potential swing voters have ample reason to be upset with the Bush administration's job policies.

This job collapse has been felt worse in many of the swing states, particularly in the Midwest, due to losses in the manufacturing industry. And economists will tell you that Americans need to adapt to shifts in our economy that are producing more jobs in service industries. The steel tariffs were meant to protect one troubled American industry in the Midwest, but Bush had to withdraw those tariffs because of international pressure.

Here is what George Bush had to say about this in his State of the Union speech:

America's growing economy is also a changing economy. As technology transforms the way almost every job is done, America becomes more productive and workers need new skills. Much of our job growth will be found in high-skilled fields like health care and biotechnology. So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs in our new economy.

Bush's solution to the collapse in manufacturing industry jobs? Apparently it is to dismiss them all together. There is no proposal for protecting American manufacturing. No clear proposal to actually create new jobs in manufacturing - or even in the service industry for that matter. Just a blanket statement elsewhere in the State of the Union implying that his infamous tax breaks for the wealthy will create jobs.

The Washington Post takes a look at the jobs issue:

A fact sheet on the new program, called "Jobs for the 21st Century," said it was aimed at strengthening high school and higher education, as well as job training, so that workers in the United States can "compete in a changing and dynamic economy and fill jobs in emerging industries."

The White House said President Bush would seek $250 million to fund partnerships between community colleges and employers in high-demand job sectors, $33 million for expanded Pell Grants for low-income students, $100 million to help middle or high school students who have trouble reading and $120 million to improve high school math education.

Bush touted the program today during a visit to Ohio, a key state in this year's presidential election campaign but one that has lost more than 250,000 jobs since he took office three years ago. In remarks at Owens Community College in Toledo, he insisted that the U.S. economy is "strong" nationwide, but he acknowledged that "these are still troubled times" in Ohio, with many people out of work.

Well, some things jump out at me from the start here. Aren't the Democrats already jumping all over Bush because he hasn't adequately funded the Child Left Behind Law? And didn't Bush promise to cap spending in the State of the Union? Didn't Bush just cut job training programs? And, if Bush is putting all of his job-related efforts into job training, what is he doing about job creation? I mean, where are people going to work after they are trained for these alleged new jobs?

I don't think my reaction here is an anomaly. The job issue is potentially the one problem that Bush knows he can't fix. This may be why he didn't directly acknowledge job losses in manufacturing in his speech, but instead relied on generalized statements. One last bit from his speech in Ohio today (following a "blame terrorists and Clinton for the lousy economy" rant):

We overcame it, in my judgment, because we properly stimulated the economy by letting people keep their money. And now we're growing. Nationwide, this economy is strong -- housing up, inflation's low, interest rates are low. We had good exports the last quarter, new jobs are being created -- I mean, last month on the exports. Things are happening.

I fully recognize, in Ohio there are still troubled times. The manufacturing here is sluggish at best, and, therefore, people are looking for work. People who could rely upon a steady job in the manufacturing sector are hoping to be able to realize their hopes by finding work elsewhere.

There are some things we can do to make sure the Ohio manufacturing sector is strong. One is to make sure our trading partners understand we expect there to be free, but level -- the playing field needs to be level; that we expect countries like China to understand that trade imbalances doesn't mean -- that says that the trade is not balanced and fair, that they've got to deal with their currency.

We also need an energy policy, by the way. If you rely upon manufacturing to have a vibrant job base, you've got to have an energy policy. Manufacturers need to have a reliable source of energy. We're too dependent on foreign sources of energy. We got public policy that is -- that makes it difficult for Ohio's manufacturers to say, we got a reliable source of energy. We've run up the demand for natural gas, we haven't had a corresponding increase in natural gas. It's hard to keep people working when your energy bills are going out of sight. We need an energy policy. I called on Congress to pass one, and they need to get one to my desk.

It strikes me that instead of identifying policy that will create manufacturing jobs, Bush is trying to use the loss of manufacturing jobs to push through some of his own more controversial policies on energy. Notice his co-opted use of the phrase "fair trade". Although I've read that statement on trade three times and I still don't think it is a real sentence. I think there can be no question that Bush recognizes that his policies will not save the manufacturing industry which is why he is shifting the subject to job training in new industries and attempting to justify new energy and trade policies.

Posted at 03:17 PM in Economy | Technorati