Don’t be fooled by the recent rise of the Dow or declining unemployment numbers – our economy is still in a terrible mess. Here’s what we need to do NOW!
The reason America’s financial house is in such disorder is three-fold: First, we simply lack a credible strategy to create a sustainable and equitable economy. Second, our economy is being held hostage by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s old economy industries from oil, gas and coal to banks and brokerage firms, which evade corporate income taxes and live on government subsidies. Third, as a nation we are consistently failing to do what citizens in places like Egypt and Tunisia have done and exercise our democratic right to fight against this unacceptable state of affairs.
We live in a sea of conflicting and confusing information. Shouldn’t we feel things are looking up when on March 3, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a high of 12,258 after soaring 191 points in a single day. Shouldn’t we be heartened by Friday’s news that unemployment fell below 9%? Not really.
A little over a month ago, I wrote about the loss of the nation’s third largest manufacturer of solar technology. Evergreen, based in Devens, Massachusetts, shut down its brand new plant, laid off 800 workers and left for China. And there’s the real truth: the erosion of much of the manufacturing foundation of our economy continues unabated. Even staples as basic as metal spoons and forks are no longer made anywhere in America. (Our last dining utensil factory, in business since colonial times, closed about eight months ago and 80 employees lost their jobs.)
New jobs are appearing, but in all the wrong places. The Bureau of Labor projects that in the next decade we’ll create 394,000 new food service and preparation jobs earning an average of $16,430. Lowe’s Home Improvement stores announced not long ago it was adding 8 – 10,000 jobs for weekend sales associates and “assistant” store managers while firing 1,700 store managers.
The New York Times recently reported, “in the last few years, the last sardine cannery, in Maine, closed its doors. Stainless steel rebars, the sturdy rods that reinforce concrete in all kinds of construction, are now no longer made in America. Neither are vending machines or incandescent light bulbs or cell-phones or laptop computers.”
Indeed, manufacturing’s share of our gross domestic product has dropped to less than 11.2% and employment in the manufacturing sector has fallen over 40% from a high point in 1979 of 19.7 million jobs down to today’s 11.6 million, with most of that drop in the last decade.
While it’s unquestionably true America will never be able to compete when it comes to many sectors of manufacturing, a low-wage, service-based economy that specializes in flipping hamburgers rather than building solar panels, imports its food from China and manages health care costs by having X-rays read in India rather than investing in preventative and alternative health care providers is an economy I wouldn’t want to risk my financial future on. To paraphrase Bloomberg Business, who would invest in an economy that lost $2 trillion last year and has a negative net-worth of $44 trillion?
So what’s the solution? Here’s a 10-point plan to get us back on the right track:
About Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender is a leading authority on corporate responsibility, sustainability and social equity. He is the co-founder Seventh Generation and the American Sustainable Business Council. He’s co-author of Planet Home, available from Clarkson Potter.
Talkback Readers: What’s your take on Hollender’s 10-point plan? What would you add? Share your thoughts on Talkback!