Since last November's presidential election, the news media and politicians have bombarded us with one story after another about the fiscal cliff, the sequester, the debt ceiling and a possible government shutdown. But the one story that continues to elude Washington dinner conversation is the story of continuing unemployment.
Of course, on the first Friday of every month, reporters and politicians rush to discuss the monthly jobs numbers, but then, like clockwork, attention quickly turns back to the distant issue of debt reduction, which has nothing to do with creating jobs right now and will most likely slow down short-term economic growth.
But many of the people in charge in this country don't seem to be listening to the people at home, as we saw again this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed to an all-time record high for the stock market on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And on Friday, the Labor Department reported the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.7 percent, while the Black unemployment rate remained stubbornly high at 13.8 percent. The unemployment numbers could have been better if government hadn't cut 10,000 jobs last month.
Despite 30 years of conservative Republican rhetoric, we're seeing the enormous economic wealth created at the top still isn't trickling down from the so-called job creators to America's workers. As the New York Times reported last week, the U.S. economic recovery is creating bountiful profits for the rich and powerful on Wall Street but not doing nearly as much to create jobs or raise income levels on Main Street.
There's a reason for this. Despite what Mitt Romney and the GOP tried to tell you last year, the purpose of business is not to create jobs; it's to create profit. Businesses won't create jobs until there's more consumer demand for their products, and right now there won't be more demand as long as government keeps laying off workers, thus leaving fewer people with money to buy things. It's not complicated. It's basic math.
How do we know this? Just look at the data. America's economic growth actually declined 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2012 because of government spending cutbacks. In fact, in the last four years we've cut 740,000 government jobs from the economy. But the sequester that just started last week could cost another 750,000 jobs this year alone, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Why would we want to cut more jobs when the job market is just starting to rebound and the economy is still fragile? This is especially true for African-Americans, who are disproportionately represented in public sector jobs and thus more likely to be affected by government job cuts.
Most importantly, why are our leaders spending so much time talking about deficits and debt reduction when the real crisis in this country is about jobs? The American people voted last fall for President Obama and Congress to create jobs, not austerity. And that's what our lawmakers need to focus on first.
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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