LABOR DAY MESSAGE: Don’t Let Workers Pay The Price For Wall Street

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President Richard Bloomingdale, Penna. AFL-CIO

BY RICHARD BLOOMINGDALE/ More Pennsylvania workers are celebrating the Labor Holiday than in any other state in the nation, but the celebrations are tempered by the recession and high unemployment which over the past year has impacted directly or indirectly over half of the nation’s workforce. If you haven’t lost your job, a member of your family has, or a friend or neighbor.

Today, nationwide unemployment is 9.5%, but this doesn’t account for those workers who have exhausted their unemployment and simply have dropped out of the workforce because they are unable to find a job. Here in Pennsylvania, there are over 520,000 unemployed workers, many of whom have been unemployed for 35 weeks or longer. For every new job created, there are five unemployed workers seeking to fill that position.

As bad as this recession is, the worst in generations, it would be much worse if Congress and the President hadn’t acted quickly by approving the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act during the economic tailspin. A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates today’s unemployment rates would be near 16% if the Federal government hadn’t rescued the economy.

The Recovery Act is pumping $780 billion into the economy nationwide, with over $26 billion into communities across Pennsylvania. Conservative estimates are that the economic stimulus will have created 200,000 jobs in Pennsylvania upon completion of the program next year. This figure doesn’t include the indirect jobs saved and created downstream.

The benefits of the economic stimulus go beyond job creation: like the 600,000 unemployed who received extensions in unemployment compensation; or the 5.4 million Pennsylvanians that received tax breaks; and the 1.55 million workers that received additional food stamps.

While the economic stimulus has brought us back from the brink of another great depression, more needs to be done to increase the demand for more jobs. It begins by remembering it was Wall Street greed that caused the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression.

Wall Street is responsible for crashing our economy and now that they have recovered and are handing out big bonuses to their top CEO’s and sending billions in credit lines and investment dollars to foreign nations such as China, they should be taxed to help pay for putting people back to work here in the United States and in Pennsylvania. Tax breaks on the wealthiest 2% should also be repealed to generate revenue for jobs.

It doesn’t end there. Next year, our State budget will face the worst budget crisis we’ve experienced in the two previous State budgets, due in large part to the sluggish economy and the drying up of Federal economic stimulus dollars to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania doesn’t have a spending problem; we have a revenue problem.

During this most recent budget battle, we pushed hard for legislators to close the tax loopholes that allow big corporations like Wal-Mart from avoiding paying taxes to the Commonwealth to the tune of almost $500 million annually in lost revenue. This is not only unfair to both small business and workers who pay their fair share of the tax burdens, it robs our State from being able to provide for our own citizens and communities and denies much needed investments in our infrastructure for the future.

We pushed hard and were successful at getting the Congress to approve $600 million in Federal funds to fill the budget hole, just to prevent additional layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters in communities across Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania also needs to pass this fall the strongest severance tax on extraction of natural gas to fund strong regulation and prevention of environmental catastrophes as well as repair of roads and bridges. What also is needed is that more of the jobs should go to Pennsylvania workers, not out-of-state workers from as far away as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas.

The most direct route to economic recovery is through Main Street, not Wall Street. It’s time our elected officials realize you cannot cut your way back to economic prosperity. It takes investments in communities and jobs. Our economy is supposed to serve people and communities, not Wall Street and corporations.

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