Hopes for a robust economic recovery were set back with a rise in the jobless rate last month, a plunging stock market, and continued debate in Congress over deficit reduction versus job creation as the nation’s number one priority.
Economic recovery, if any, remains fragile. Banks are still nervous about lending. Gas and food prices are still climbing. The dollar is still worth less every day. We need to be doing everything in our power to make sure that the economy remains strong and that jobs are available in both the private and public sectors.
Instead, we only hear threats about the need for layoffs. Politicians talk about the danger of government deficits. There is serious debate about dismantling the social programs that have taken care of the disadvantaged and elderly for decades. Where is the talk of creating jobs? What is being done to make sure that our economy stays on the right track?
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear. Public sector workers are not to blame for the economic collapse or its sluggish recovery. Wall Street is responsible. Even more importantly, hurting public sector workers isn’t going to solve our current problems. In fact, it’s just a recipe for making our economic recovery build at an even slower pace.
There are many old sayings being thrown around these days: “We need to do more with less,” “We have to tighten our belts.” Sometimes these ideas make sense and other times
they do not. The government has the ability to either help or hurt the economy. If it uses its power to create new jobs, provide important services and give resources to the disadvantaged,
the economy will grow. On the other hand, if it fires people and withholds social aid to families, people will have much less money to put back into the economy.
Look at how the city and state thrived over the past decade when workers were paid decent wages and given good benefits. Of course, the general economy was better, and there was more money in the budget, but the government did the right thing by giving fair compensation packages to its employees. Those contracts helped the economy of New York expand and become strong, and ultimately allowed us to weather the recession better than many other places. In these times, we need to be more frugal, but balancing the budget solely by taking from employees will erase much of the middle class foundation we created in he recent past. That is not only bad for public sector workers but everyone in the state.
Just as important, the people who have been hit hardest by this recession, and are struggling to make it during the recovery, are not the titans of Wall Street. Many bankers
and corporate executives are back to making seven figure salaries and multi-million dollar bonuses. Regular people are fighting to put food on the table, pay for health insurance and cover their mortgages. Doesn’t it make more sense to get the money to pay the government’s bills from those that can afford it? Some say that taxes on the rich will hurt the economy because they will spend less. But taking away jobs from the middle class has an even greater impact because they will have no money to spend at all!
The same logic is true when it comes to retirement benefits. If the city and state cut back on pensions and health care for people in retirement, they will have less money to put back into the economy. Seniors, many on fixed incomes, can least afford to have resources taken from them. The press would like New Yorkers to believe that every public sector worker retires with a pension that pays hundreds of thousands of dollars. The truth is that the average pension is less than $20,000, and many public sector retirees are just scraping by as costs go up and their income stays the same. We must protect the right of both current and future workers to have some peace after they end their careers.
We need to put the focus back where it belongs — on the economy and making this recovery pick up speed. It is impossible to do that by attacking the middle class, which is made up of our members and people like us. We can carry some of the load, but not all of it. Making this country, state and city strong again will require building up the workers’ standard of living, not tearing it down. Only then can we have a true recovery.