Monday, July 25, 2011

Jobs and Shifting Allegiances

Did you catch the CBS Evening News report last Thursday on the Dawsonville, GA, company that produces customized steel plates using a laser controlled machine? (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7374087n&tag=mncol;lst;1)

The gist of the story was technology has become vital to economic success and a main reason why massive job creation may prove elusive. Impulse Mfg. is enjoying 60% profit increases, but it plans no additional hires because technology has negated the need. A laser-guided machine, for example, can turn out one steel plate in 30 seconds, a task 18 workers previously accomplished in 30 minutes.

There you have it. Manufacturing, formerly a foundation of the middle class, no longer can be relied on to provide a stable economic underpinning in the Rust Belt and other regions of the country. Job losses no longer just result from companies shipping work overseas. Even those companies committed to domestic production have limited opportunities for American workers.

When I studied economics in college, 4% unemployment was considered full employment. It’s not beyond the pale to suggest today’s definition probably is in the 7%-8% range, especially when one considers all the aging baby boomers who lost their jobs in the recession and are finding it nearly impossible to secure comparable work and pay. National unemployment was reported in June at 9.2%.

The subtext of this job dislocation is the impact on national and local elections. The party in power, regardless of fault, often bears the brunt of voter disillusionment. That partly explains Republican gains in the 2010 elections. As we enter the 2012 election cycle, embroiled as we are in the pseudo give-and-take of the debt ceiling extension debate, it’s a toss-up which party will be viewed as the more sympathetic.

Old allegiances are fraying.

As inconceivable as it might have been just a few years ago, poor, young, uneducated white folks are more inclined to support the Republican party in 2011 than they were in 2008. The Pew Research Center’s latest poll, released last Friday, shows these core constituencies of non Hispanic whites have deserted the Democratic party.

“A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years ago has turned into an 11-point GOP advantage today,” according to Pew. “And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually has swung to a slim four-point Republican edge today.”

Furthermore, “Republicans have made gains among whites with a high school education or less. The GOP’s advantage over Democrats has grown from one point in 2008 to 17 points in 2011 among less educated whites. Republicans have made smaller gains among whites voters who have college degrees (http://people-press.org/2011/07/22/gop-makes-big-gains-among-white-voters/).”

Can the shift be explained away merely as frustration with the nation’s economic woes? Is it a racist response to a black president? Is it proof the GOP attracts voters who vote with their emotions, not their brains?

Probably a little, or a lot, of all those reasons.

What cannot be denied, even by the most ardent Republican booster, is the policies of the GOP are weighted toward the wealthy, its support for social welfare and higher education programs is squishy, to say the least, and its job-creation programs so far are non-existent save for calls for lower taxes for the rich, or as Republicans calls them, “job creators.” Of course, even with the Bush tax cuts for the upper crust new jobs have not been plentifully created. (Okay, they can deny it all but they’d be kidding themselves; regrettably, they’re already doing a good job fooling many of the young, poor and under-educated.)

How absolutely discouraging. How absolutely unfathomable. How absolutely implausible. But it’s true.

The safety net will be pulled from under them if the poor, the young and the least educated elect conservative, Republican politicians. But getting them to see that is like trying to prove a negative. Until they suffer and can be brought back into the Democratic fold, many will vote against their best economic interests. We have only to look at the eight years of George W. Bush to see the damage that can be wrought—failure to acknowledge warnings of an imminent attack on U.S. soil, 9/11, two wars seemingly without end, lower purchasing power for the middle class and working class, no job growth, federal budgets that went from surplus to deficit, and a loss of respect throughout most of the world.

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