There are all sorts of great issues on the political scene now. There is the “Culture of Corruption” thanks to Delay, Frist and a whole host of other Republicans. The Iraq War also comes to mind. Both of these issues are strong issues for the Democrats. However, there are other issues that are just as important that lack the visceral nature of corruption and war. These issues center around economic issues, or as I like to think of them “kitchen table issues.” If a family can’t afford health insurance or tuition, if they aren’t making more money than they were 4 years ago, then the other issues don’t matter. People have to survive before they can think about grander themes. Right now, Bush’s policies have hurt the middle class in numerous ways that II will document below. These have to be part of our themes in the 2006 election.
Below, I will use statistics from January 2001 when Bush was sworn in as president. Some Republicans use 9/11 and the recession as mitigating factors to explain Bush’s poor performance. These are mitigating factors. However, Bush got the job. He gets credit for the whole enchilada – not just the part that looks good.
According to the Bureau of Labor Services, the average hourly earnings of production workers was $14.27 in January 2001 and was $16.16 in August 2005 for an increase of 13.24%. Over the same period of time, the overall inflation index for all items increased from 175.1 to 196.4 for an increase of 12.16%. That means after inflation, the average production wage increased 1.08% in 4 and a half years. This is why the average American feels so much richer under Republican economic leadership.
According to the Bureau of Labor Services, total nonfarm employment was 132,454,000 in January 2001 and 133,999,000 in August 2005 for a net 4.5 year gain of 1,545,000. This breaks down to approximately 28,600 jobs/month over the period. This is important because the economy must create 150,000 jobs/month to deal with natural attrition, people looking for new jobs, people entering the workforce etc…. In other words, Bush’s economy has not created enough jobs to deal with the natural expansion of the population or generally economic conditions. The next question to answer is “why is the unemployment rate so low?” The unemployment numbers do not count people who have not looked for work in the last 4 weeks. This is better documented by the labor participation rate which was dropped from 67.2% in January 2001 to 66.2% in August 2005.
In addition, the Bush economy is heavily skewed towards housing. Over the same time, the net gain in construction employment was 418,000, or 27% of total employment growth. In addition, financial services jobs increased by 487,000 over the same period. All of the financial jobs are not related to real estate. I have not seen any statistics that break this number down into a real estate and non-real estate portion. So let’s make a simple conservative assumption and say that 20% of the financial services jobs are related to real estate activities. That would mean 6.2% of the jobs created in the financial services area are related to real estate, bringing the total number of housing related jobs to 33.2% of total ob creation during the recovery. Finally, business and professional services increased employment by a little over 100,000. Assuming 10% of these are real estate related, an additional .5% of job growth is real estate related, bringing the grand total of housing based employment to 33.7% of all jobs created in the last 5 years. So, when housing slows so will the job market.
Of particularly scary significance is the loss in high paying technology and goods producing jobs. January 2001, the US economy has lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs and 560,000 information jobs. These numbers alone should concern anybody who is concerned with the US’ mammoth international trade deficit.
Actually, it would be better to title any description of Bush’s efforts on heath care as lack of health care. Kaiser Health recently issued its annual survey of health care. Here are some of the high points:
Premiums increased an average of 9.2% in 2005, down from the 11.2% average found in 2004. The 2005 increase ended four consecutive years of double-digit increases, but the rate of growth is still more than three times the growth in workers’ earnings (2.7%) and two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation (3.5%). Since 2000, premiums have gone up 73%.
The annual premiums for family coverage reached $10,880 in 2005, eclipsing the gross earnings for a full-time minimum-wage worker ($10,712). The average worker paid $2,713 toward premiums for family coverage in 2005 or 26% of the total health premium. While workers’ share of their premium has been relatively stable over the past few years, they are now paying on average $1,094 more in premiums for family coverage than they did in 2000.
For those who want the hard numbers, annual premium increases for 2001-2004 were 10.9%, 12.9%, 13.9%, and 11.2%. Read the rest of the report to get an idea for how poorly Bush’s ideas have not solved the problem. This is a crisis that has only grown in size and magnitude since Bush came into office. He has done nothing to address the problem.
I have an idea: let’s educate people so they can get better jobs. Call me a revolutionary. Or a fool. The last 4 years have seen large increases in public college education costs. Annual increases in the cost of public education from 2001-2005 were 7.1%, 9.1%, 13.9% and 10.6% respectively. The average cost of 452 state school tuition costs was $5153 in 2005, with the average for room and board expense coming in at $6058. This brings the 4-year total to $40,764 for an education and room and board.
Tuition and fees have increased 51% since the 1994-1995 school year. In addition, tuition has increased faster than inflation since the early 1980s.
But wait! A student can get a grant! This situation isn’t so bad! Well, the problem is the state and local grants aren’t keeping pace with the tuition increases. Therefore, the grants are now paying for less of the education than before. The bottom line is college is slowly becoming more and more a luxury people are having a more difficult time affording.
One of these days, I will figure out a way to make these issues really exciting and visceral so people actually start talking about them. Until that happens, these issues will probably continue to fall through the cracks of US political dialog — along with the middle class.