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Washington Doesn’t Understand the Jobs Crisis Because They Don’t Live It

If only the rest of the Senate were a bit more like Jeff Merkley:

…instead of recognizing deficit reduction as one piece of a strategy to get our economy on track, Republican leaders are using the deficits – which largely derive from the Republican policies that supported unfunded wars, unfunded subsidies for the richest Americans, and an economic disaster driven by the deregulation of Wall Street – to wage a war on working Americans. Far from helping hard-working, middle class Americans who have borne the brunt of the Great Recession, the House Republican budget targets those very same Americans.

The extremist House budget will kill jobs and slash funding for education, job training programs, student loans, and health care services for women and their families, among many other things. According to Mark Zandi, who advised John McCain’s presidential campaign and who now works at the non-partisan Moody’s Analytics, the GOP’s proposed budget cuts will destroy 700,000 American jobs.

That is worth repeating: The GOP budget plan will destroy 700,000 jobs. The last thing our nation can afford right now is further job losses. We need to be creating jobs, not destroying jobs.

This must come across as discordant inside Washington. Surely these Senators know that we’re talking about deficits now, not jobs! Jobs was last year’s model. We’ve moved on to the exciting world of deficit reduction.

The truth is that Washington has no interest in jobs legislation because they don’t live with the kind of people who have trouble getting a job. In Washington, D.C., poverty is readily available as a sight, but the power elites know how to skillfully avoid it. Their class of college-educated men and women don’t have as much of a jobs problem. Their city and metro area doesn’t have a jobs problem. So, myopia carrying the day, they don’t believe the jobs problem exists. And so Congress can debate seriously a measure that would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs – in the middle of a jobs crisis – without that elite batting an eyelash. It’s a social distance, as Chris Hayes explains:

Social distance of this sort isn’t new, of course. The “out of touchness” of the Beltway is such a cliché that Beltway denizens themselves love to invoke it to demonstrate their self-awareness. But I’d wager the social distance that characterizes this moment is probably as bad as it’s been in at least a generation. We’ve had more than three decades of accelerating inequality that has placed the top 10 percent further and further away from the bottom 90 percent, followed by a financial crisis and “recovery” that has only exacerbated these distributional trends. There were already Two Americas before the Great Recession, but in the wake of that seismic disruption, those two continents have only moved further apart.

This manifests itself in our politics in two ways. For one, it just so happens that policy-makers, pundits and politicians are drawn from the classes that are in recovery, and they live in an area where new sushi restaurants are opening all the time. For even the best-intentioned and most conscientious staffers and aides this has, I think, a subconscious effect […] The other problem is that our system is responsive only to voices at the top of the social pyramid—the bankers and businessmen who are raking in record bonuses and the professional upper middle class, which is recovering much faster than the nation as a whole. In a 2007 paper titled “Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness in the United States,” Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens analyzed 2,000 survey questions from 1981 to 2002, looking for the relationship between public opinion and policy outcomes. He found that “when Americans with different income levels differ in their policy preferences, actual policy outcomes strongly reflect the preferences of the most affluent but bear little relationship to the preferences of poor or middle income Americans.”

Hayes postulates that this is why we’re seeing a renewed interest in the labor movement. When the social distance between the rich and poor is so great, and the rich band together to deliver the final blow to the working class, the rest of us, the other 98%, can either band together or once again succumb to the games elites play to pit us against ourselves. This new progressive movement understands that Washington will not deliver what they need without massive amounts of pressure. They band together not in solidarity with a political candidate, but with an idea, a principle, a value. That makes it a more lasting proposition.

Labor’s long, slow decline has made the nation more vulnerable to inequality and the social distance that creates than at any time since the Gilded Age. The time is right for a backlash.

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David Dayen

David Dayen