Republicans Could Exploit Weak Job Market to Move Up from Irrelevance in Legislature

Friday, March 28, 2014

As good as we basically have it in a progressive state like Massachusetts I’m always struck by how bearish we are about the future.

The Great Recession ended in June of 2009, economists tell us.   Almost five years later, it seems like the trauma it inflicted has not come close to healing.

For my job, I have to watch what goes on in the legislative and executive branches of Massachusetts government, and follow developments in the state budget.  Practically every time I go to the State House, I notice a different state-funded group asking legislators for money, more money.  Never having enough money to spread among the needy constituencies on your doorstep could be the hardest part of serving in that building.

Many members of the Massachusetts House, some 12 or 13 reps, have recently resigned or announced their intention not to run again.  How many quit, at least in part, due to the weariness that comes from not being able to help people who need help?
For a long time, I’ve attributed the heavy public mood to the panoply of financial problems confronting the typical family: the high cost of buying a home, the high cost of a college education, the high cost of health care, the high cost of state and local taxes, the highly unlikely prospect of getting a raise exceeding the inflation rate, etc.

But lately I’m thinking there’s one issue bigger than all the rest suppressing the natural tendency of the American people toward optimism: the job market.  We aren’t creating enough new jobs.  And the jobs we are creating don’t pay enough.  I think it’s that simple.
A lot of good stuff has been written on this topic.  One of the best expositions came in April, 2013, from the National Employment Law Project, which published a briefing paper titled, “Scarring Effects: Demographics of the Long-Term Unemployed and the Danger of Ignoring the Jobs Deficit.”  I urge you to seek it out at:

Here are some excerpts:

·         “The elimination of good jobs over the past three decades continues to hollow out our nation’s middle class and fuel growing income inequality.”

·         “The Great Recession exacerbated a long-term trend away from good jobs.  Six in ten jobs lost during the downtown were in mid-wage occupations.  By comparison…employment in lower-wage occupations grew by 2.8 times more than employment in mid- and high-wage occupations.”

·         “…the Congressional Budget Office is warning that unemployment is likely to stay above 7.5 percent through 2014, marking the sixth consecutive year with unemployment that high, ‘the longest such period in the past 70 years.’ ” 

·         “…research shows that the loss of a good job during a severe downturn – the job loss pattern of this downturn – leads to a 20 percent earnings loss lasting 15 to 20 years.”

·         “Well into the recovery, the youth unemployment rate was stalled at its lowest level since WWII.  Traditional avenues into the workforce – manufacturing, retail and construction – have been closed to the youngest workers who have to compete against millions of unemployed with more job experience, making it hard to get a foothold.”

·         “…the United States faces a jobs deficit of nine million.  This is the number of jobs needed to restore the labor market to its pre-recession health after accounting for jobs lost during the downturn as well as potential labor market entrants.  At the current pace of job growth (183,000 jobs per month in 2012), the United States will not close the jobs deficit until 2019.”
If the National Employment Law Project is correct, if the nation’s “jobs deficit” lasts until 2019, it would almost certainly have an impact on the make-up of the Massachusetts legislature.  The overwhelming Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, a fact of political life here for decades, could become a thing of the past.

There is at least one cadre of small-business Republicans I am aware of that has already coalesced around the goal of defeating a select group of Democratic office holders in districts where the economy has been especially sluggish.  This group has the relatively modest aim of replacing eight to ten Democrats in each of the next four to five election cycles.  It hopes to do this by sticking to the theme of economic opportunity and avoiding issues like abortion, gay marriage, welfare benefits, transgender rights, etc.
If the Republican Party had to depend only on Republicans to carry out this plan, they wouldn’t have a prayer.  Only 11% of Massachusetts voters are registered Republicans. 

Fortunately for the Republicans, they have a large number of Independent (unenrolled) voters to turn to for aid and comfort.  Some 52% of registered voters are Independents, a much bigger share than are Democrats, 37%.
Independents are always the key to electing the Republicans our state frequently favors in gubernatorial elections, but not in most other races.  Think of the Congress, where our nine U.S. reps and two U.S. Senators are all Democrats, and of the constitutional offices like Treasurer and Secretary of State, all held by Dems.

Should the job market remain a bear market, Republican candidates could find receptive audiences all over the state, and especially among younger voters yearning for a life as good as their parents had.

A FURTHER NOTE ON THIS SUBJECT: The New York Times published an article on Monday, April 28, which filled in more of the picture of our weak job market.  It was headlined, "Recovery Has Created Far More Low Wage Jobs Than Better-Paid Ones," and said, in part, "...the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurant...the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones."  You can find the article at:

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