By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Weekly Commentary | Chicago Sun-Times
Five years after the beginning of the financial collapse and the Great Recession, where are we? This week, President Obama offered Americans a progress report. He hailed the steps taken to turn the economy around and rescue the auto and financial industries. He used the occasion, sensibly, to challenge Republicans in the Congress not to do more damage to the slow recovery by manufacturing another unnecessary budget crisis.
The president was candid about how far we have to go. He suggested that the very trends that were destroying the middle class prior to the Great Recession have gotten worse. The wealthiest 1 percent has captured virtually all of the rewards from growth coming out of the recession, while most Americans haven’t experienced a recovery at all.
This isn’t an accident. The auto industry was rescued, and the big three are generating profits and beginning to hire more workers. The big banks were rescued, and are now bigger, more concentrated and more dangerous than ever.
But while the big boats were righted, too little was done for the boats on the bottom.
We still experience mass unemployment, with some 21 million people in need of full-time work. Wages for most workers are stagnant at best. The jobs being created have lower pay and fewer benefits than the jobs that were lost. The housing market is coming back, but about 20 percent of homeowners are still underwater. The rich are getting richer, while the middle class continues to sink.
This is a matter of choice, not fate. The government acted quickly and boldly to bail out the big banks, and rescue the auto companies. But it was slow and timid in offering aid to underwater homeowners, or those displaced from jobs. Citibank was saved from bankruptcy; Detroit was allowed to sink.
Now, House Republicans are manufacturing another budget crisis, once more holding the economy and the government hostage, to get what they want. And what they want is to force working and poor people to pick up more of the cost of cleaning up Wall Street’s excesses.
They say they are concerned about deficits and about making government smaller, but that’s simply a cover story. They oppose rolling back subsidies to Big Oil, the richest group of companies in corporate history. They oppose shutting down tax havens abroad, where multinationals stash literally trillions of dollars to avoid taxes. They oppose even a law to keep millionaires from paying lower taxes than their secretaries. They want to increase spending on the Pentagon, the biggest bureaucracy of them all.
What do they want? They want to cut up to $40 billion out of food stamps, the program that keeps Americans in trouble from going hungry. They want to defund health-care reform, depriving millions of Americans of the chance to gain affordable health care. They want to cut education, child nutrition, Head Start, Meals on Wheels for seniors, Medicaid and other domestic programs, while providing more money for the Pentagon.
Americans respond to calls for shared sacrifice, but the current arrangement lavishes the benefits on the top and exacts the sacrifice from working and poor people. That isn’t right.
Five years later, President Obama says we have removed the rubble but not laid the new foundation for growth and good jobs. But a new foundation will require a level playing field. And that will require politicians who will defend principles, not interests. Five years later, we still have a lot of work to do.