Last week, the U.K. publication The Guardian used an interesting anecdote to describe the key finding of an Oxfam report on global inequality: The world’s 85 richest people now own more wealth than the planet’s poorest 3.5 billion people. All of the world’s wealthiest individuals, Guardian writer Graeme Wearden noted, “could squeeze onto a single double-decker” bus.
The ironic image of the super-rich riding a humble public bus is an apt metaphor for the socioeconomic quandary facing America before President Obama makes his 2014 State of the Union address tonight. Underinvestment in job creation, training, education and public services like transportation put middle-class success out of reach for many Americans, while at the other end of the spectrum, wealth has been concentrated in very few hands.
President Obama’s speech ought to address the central problems of economic inequality and deficit of opportunities and services for many Americans.
What is the single biggest economic problem facing people early in this century? It is not the budget deficit or national debt. It is the eroding and disappearing of good jobs. People with good jobs – jobs that provide decent pay and benefits and the flexibility to be able to take care of one’s family – are the fuel of the economy and the basis for broadly shared prosperity. Good jobs, and the things that go with them – a good education, affordable health care, and a secure retirement – are the very definition of a successful economy.
The public gets it. When asked to identify “the single biggest problem facing this country today,” 40 percent answered “jobs and the economy.” Number two was “budget deficit/national debt,” at six percent.
Four years after the official end of the Great Recession, the real economy – not corporate profits or the stock market – remains stalled.
It seems like a hopeless conundrum. We need our government – federal state and local – to stimulate the economy and help create jobs. But our government has no money. Or at least less money. So does that mean that it’s foolish – or unfair – to insist that our local, state and governments do “something” to create more and better jobs for people who desperately need them?
Well, no. In fact, there is a lot that our government can do to double or triple the number of jobs that are being created in the U.S. with the same or similar amounts of money. We just have to do things in a smarter and more strategic way to get much better results.
Here’s what I mean. As people may imagine, local, state and the federal governments buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services every year. Think about all of the buses,