The Jobs Crisis Started Long Before 2008

U.S. Census Bureau figures coming out earlier this week confirmed what the majority of Americans see every day; poverty is one the rise across the country. According to the report, 1 in 6 Americans is now living in poverty. This is the highest level since the downturn of the early 1990s. On a technical level, the recession that began with the collapse of the housing market and the ensuing financial meltdown concluded years ago. For the estimated 24 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed, the crisis never came to an end.

Politicians and pundits offered an unsurprising reaction. Democrats accused Republicans of smothering the recovery in its crib. Republicans accused President Obama of being in over his head. Dueling jobs plans were unveiled by the President, leading Republican presidential contenders, and House Speaker John Boehner. Taxes must be cut! Money must be spent! The back and forth that has come to define our national discourse sank its teeth into the national leadership’s reflection on the continuing jobs crisis.

Several commentators have begun pointing to the fact that policymakers are failing to acknowledge the big picture. The Brookings Institution, a leading think-tank for the center left, crunched the numbers and determined that the jobs crisis was a ticking time bomb throughout the course of the Bush administration. According to the Institution’s analysis, the downturn of the early 2000s brought about a stagnation in the job market that faded from view but continued undermining the country’s economic prospects.

Joel Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, also sought to provide a broader context for the Census Bureau’s latest poverty numbers. While acknowledging the current severity of the jobs crisis, he emphasized that this has been a systematic problem developing for decades. “This has been going on for a long time, people saw it coming, and our leaders chose to give tax cuts to billionaires,” he said.

Texas Wildfires a Perfect Storm

Wildfires burning 25 miles west of Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of the NBC Affiliate KXAN-Austin.

Emergency personnel brought the wildfires that have ravaged central Texas under control today, heading off a blaze that leveled five hundred homes and forced the evacuation of thousands in rural Bastrop County. The conflagration cut a destructive path that broke state records, serving as a potent reminder of what happens when environmental disaster meets myopic policy-making.

This year has been a scorcher even by Texan standards. Earlier today, the National Weather Service confirmed that that the last three months in Texas have seen the hottest temperatures ever recorded in American history. This heat has been accompanied by a drought that shattered state records and continues its devastation of local water supplies, costing Texas farmers and ranchers an estimated $5.2 billion this year. These factors have combined to create wildfires that reached new heights in recent days, burning down acreage approximately the size of Connecticut.

Map depicting extreme drought conditions across the state of Texas in April, 2011.

These conditions have been exacerbated through decisions made by Governor Rick Perry and the state legislature. In a session that met this past spring, the Texas legislature slashed the state Forest Service budget by 31 percent. Compounding this was even more draconian cuts to volunteer fire departments, the first responders to this sort of situation in rural areas, amounting to 75 percent of their state funding. Despite the fact that wildfires were raging across the state as they deliberated, Texas legislators pushed through severe budget cuts to the two point agencies for this exact type of crisis.