Creating more jobs, sector by sector

By John Burbank

Eleven years ago yesterday we woke up to a beautiful blue sky morning, and our world came crashing down on our heads. And 11 years ago today, we looked in one direction to help us, protect us, and rebuild our world. That direction was to our government.

The firefighters who lost their lives trying to save people in the World Trade Center were government workers. The police who got people out of harm’s way were government workers. The air traffic controllers who brought thousands of aircraft safely out of the skies were government workers. The Social Security employees who talked to the families of every missing employee in the World Trade Center were government workers. And the Social Security benefits that started to flow to these families within three weeks of 9/11 were government benefits, paid from our taxes.

Of course government steps into the breach when our nation is attacked. What we tend to overlook is what our government does when the economy craters. Between 2008 and 2009, the private sector economy lost over $2 trillion. We lost 8.5 million jobs nationally.

What happened then? Our government stepped in, with the American Recovery Act. The federal government invested $1.7 billion in education in our state, including almost $200 million in Snohomish County. This money backfilled state and local funding losses. It went to keep teachers in classrooms for your kids. The Recovery Act also funded infrastructure and transportation projects, including millions of dollars of improvements on U.S 2, pedestrian and bicycle improvement projects in Lynnwood and Everett, and arterial resurfacing. These Recovery Act investments created and protected tens of thousands of jobs in our state.

So how come we are still wandering around in the recession? Part of the problem is that the stimulus just wasn’t enough. We tried to counter a $2 trillion drop in national income with a $500 billion stimulus — about one-quarter of what had been lost. Since the stimulus kicked in, we have gained 4 million jobs. That’s a lot better than where we were at the bottom of the recession, but it leaves us short by half from where we started at the beginning of 2008.

Another problem is that the stimulus didn’t last long enough. Some projects are still being developed, but for the most part, the tap on that federal money has been turned off.

This didn’t just happen by accident or neglect. The Republican Congress forced this drop in federal spending, not because they were concerned about the debt, but because they knew that if the stimulus was continued and well funded, the economy would recover, unemployment would drop, and their attempt to win this election would be that much more difficult. They made an astute political calculation, but not one that does any good for our country or our state.

So how about here in Washington? That’s where State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, comes in. This past year Hans put together a half billion dollar bond issue, brought together business and labor, and got the rest of the Legislature (or almost all of it) to back him up for our state’s own stimulus package.

The result? Twenty-thousand jobs that wouldn’t exist without government financing and literally hundreds of construction projects all around the state to bring us firmly into the 21st century global economy. These include Phase Three for the University of Washington/Bothell to expand facilities for science, technology, engineering, math, and health studies and renovation of Everett Community College’s corporate and continuing education center.

It’s a no-brainer that we should fund public projects when the private sector is stuck in neutral. These projects create jobs and put money in the pockets of construction workers. Then they spend that money, and it goes a lot further than an unemployment check. That creates demand in the private sector, businesses see the possibility for profits, they invest in their operations, bring on more workers, and the economy revs up. When the private sector revs up, the economy grows more, the tax base grows, and our government has an easier time paying off the bonds that we used to jumpstart economic growth.

So when you go by one of these construction projects, you can thank Hans Dunshee. And pretty much the entire Legislature. We need more people like him, who can help lead us out of this recession. And who know the value of government for jobs and our economic future, as well as the security of our nation.

John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached via email at john@eoionline.org.