Commentary: Unemployment Numbers Prove Government Needs to Do More

We must invest our government resources to create consumer demand and jobs for right now.

Posted: 07/06/2012 12:39 PM EDT
Keith Boykin, Unemployment

The June unemployment numbers came out today, and Republicans couldn't wait to pounce on President Obama. The economy only created 80,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate remained at 8.2 percent, they complained.

True, the jobs numbers aren't where the country would like them to be, but let's insert some context here.

First, the economy created 80,000 jobs in June. When Obama took office, the economy was losing nearly 750,000 jobs a month. After the Recovery Act was passed, the jobs numbers started to turn around, and we've now seen 28 consecutive months of private-sector job growth and added 4.4 million new jobs.

Whenever Obama reminds voters of the economic crisis he inherited, Republicans complain he's blaming President Bush and needs to take responsibility. But just this week a new video surfaced showing then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney making the same point about his tenure as governor.

"I came in and the jobs had been just falling off a cliff," said Romney. "I came in and they kept falling for 11 months and then we turned it around and we’re coming back. And that’s progress. And if you’re going to suggest to me that somehow the day I got elected — somehow jobs should immediately turn around, why that would be silly. It takes a while to get things turned around," Romney said.

That was Romney's view of the economy back then, but today he and his GOP counterparts are taking a different view.

Ever since the stimulus provided in the 2009 Recovery Act ran out, Republicans have shown no interest in lifting a finger to continue the momentum that dug us out of the Bush recession. Instead of helping consumers and middle-class Americans with a real jobs bill, Republicans offer no solutions other than tired, old rhetoric about cutting government regulations and giving tax breaks to the rich and powerful. Pardon me, but that's the same formula we followed in the Bush administration.

The second point of context concerns the unemployment rate. The 8.2 percent unemployment rate in June is not a great number, but it too needs to be seen in historical and international context. From the historical perspective, unemployment spiked to 7.5 percent in the summer of 1984, and yet Ronald Reagan went on to win re-election by declaring it was "morning in America."

From the international perspective, remember that the world economy is fragile at the moment. Europe remains in crisis, the British economy has fallen into a second recession, and the unemployment rate in the Eurozone has risen to a record high 11.1 percent, far above the figures in the U.S. When Europe and the rest of the world slow down, that means American producers have fewer available markets to sell their products. That, too, drags on the economy.

Third, the unemployment rate reveals vast racial differences in our economy. For white women, the unemployment rate is only 6.6 percent. For white men, it's 7.0 percent. But for Black women, unemployment stands at 12.7 percent, and for Black men it's 14.2 percent. The overall unemployment rate for Blacks is 14.4 percent.

Several factors contribute to the racial disparity, but two key issues need to be addressed. One is education, and the other is government.

The unemployment rate for those with college degrees checked in at a mere 4.1 percent in June, while the unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma stood at 12.6 percent. That suggests we need to redouble our efforts to increase access to college. Education reduces unemployment, but African-Americans are less likely than whites to hold college degrees.

Second, cutting government jobs has hurt African-Americans, who are more likely than whites to be employed in the public sector. Republicans like to boast about cutting government payrolls, but behind each of those jobs they cut is a real American who no longer has money to feed a family, pay a mortgage, or contribute to the economy.

If people don't have jobs, they can't buy things. If they can't buy things, then the economy slows down. It's a vicious cycle that only gets worse by cutting government jobs.

If the June unemployment numbers tell us anything, it's that now is no time for government to retreat. Instead, we need to reload our artillery and do more. That means we have to invest in education to create well-trained workers for the future. And we have to invest our government resources to create consumer demand and jobs for right now.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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