I’ve always loved parades.
And I’ve attended many of them in my time.
But one parade above all others stands out in my memory.
I was just a kid at the time but I’ll never forget the big parade in my hometown to celebrate jobs. Sponsored by organized labor, the parade marched down Broadway in Camden (NJ) to herald the construction of the NS Savannah at Camden’s 273-acre New York Shipbuilding Corporation.
Above all, Camden was a blue-collar town. And it was solidly Democrat and pro-labor.
Employment was always the defining “bread and butter” issue for Democrats. And keeping people working and creating new jobs – good jobs – was the essential mission of the Democratic Party. Indeed, “jobs” was the party’s mantra and Democrats rarely spoke on any issue without mentioning jobs.
As Labor Day approaches once again, I think of that day in Camden so many years ago.
What went wrong?
When did the Democratic Party lose sight of its core responsibility? When did it stop caring about jobs?
Recent jobs reports may seem to be improved but the simple fact is this: Long-term joblessness remains much higher than when Obama first took office. Also, under Obama workers’ wages remain stagnant and the home ownership rate continues to decline. And participation in the labor force has reached a new low.
The consumer price index is up 12% but real weekly earnings are up by a measly three-tenths of one percent. The number of food stamp recipients has jumped 44% under Obama.
If the Obama economic "recovery" was a real recovery it would have created 14 million new jobs. That's what previous post-recession recoveries created, on average. But Obama has barely created less than half of that -- six million. And the jobless rate still hovers over six percent. But the "real unemployment" rate is estimated to be double that at 12.6%. This number accounts for the full unemployment picture including those “marginally attached to the labor force,” plus those “employed part time for economic reasons.” Yes, more than 20 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.
Indeed, many of the jobs created under Obama are part-time. Consider the three most common jobs in America right now: Retail salespersons, cashiers and office clerks. None of these are high-paying and all frequently involve part-time work. It's estimated that more than a quarter of all new jobs created are actually part-time.
Also, 50 years after Dr. King's famous I Have A Dream speech the Black unemployment rate has not improved under President Barack Obama. The Pew Center recently reported that Black unemployment rate has returned to double that of the White unemployment rate.
But nobody on the left seems to want to talk about these failures – not the liberal establishment, not the Democratic leadership and certainly not the labor movement.
President Obama argues that the economy was in a ditch and now “we’ve gotten it out of the ditch and want to put it in drive.” But the car still doesn’t seem to be moving -- not the way it should be; not the way Reagan got it moving ion the 1980s; not nearly that well. Sometimes, Obama simply says we've hit some "bumps in the road." That's small consolation. And enough with the car metaphors already!
Instead, Democrats and Big Labor seem to want to talk about wedge issues such as the trumped-up "war on women" as they immerse themselves in the popular culture -- and this even as Big Labor gets a pass on Obamacare. There's an inherent phoniness about it all.
There was a time when labor leaders were close to the people. There was a time when they actually worked alongside the people that they represented. Those days seem long gone.
And all of this has been happening as union membership has steadily dwindled. When the Savannah was built in Camden, labor unions represented a third of all workers. By 1983 the number had fallen to 20 percent. And by 2008 it was down to 12 percent. What’s more, the average age of union members seems to be getting older. The largest unionized age group is workers aged 55 to 64.
Why can’t the Democrats turn any of these numbers around?
What happened to one of the central promises of traditional liberalism – jobs?
These are questions worth pondering this Labor Day.