Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building WMDs: bad jobs program

This Thursday I am invited to participate in a forum in Brunswick called "Where Do Our Dollars Go?" As a public school employee I'll comment on the effects of budget cuts to education, and how this plays out in the actual schools in our communities. Many people have viewed the slideshow that my husband Mark Roman and I created this summer using photographs we took at several closed primary and elementary schools in Maine.

Brunswick is a special case because its school district lost thousands of students, and thousand of dollars in subsidies, when the naval air base closed and military families moved out of the area. This also caused a local toy store to go out of business, and probably many others I don't know about.

In the U.S. we are trained to think that military = prosperity. The Congress has carefully spread funding for weapons manufacturing and installations like military air bases in every state of the nation. That way everyone's ox is gored when military expenditures are cut. As Rep. Chellie Pingree explained this to me last year, "They say 'Do you want to put three thousand people out of work your first term in office?" She was referring to the workforce at Bath Iron Works and a question from me about cutting military spending and converting that industrial capacity to building wind turbines, as an enlightened group of workers at BIW has been calling for.

As you can see from the chart above, conversion would generate far more jobs at BIW than building Aegis destroyers does. Weapons manufacturing generates fewer full time jobs with benefits than does a similar investment. This model by economists at UMass Amherst crunches the numbers to find out what a $1 billion investiment in various sectors of the economy generates in terms of jobs. The model is based on actual data from past investments.

Building components for a light rail system -- one that could be used to provide low carbon transport for Americans, such as citizens of all the developed countries except ours enjoy -- generates more than twice as many jobs as building weapons. Putting the $1 billion into education generates a bit more than twice as many jobs. Investing in either health care or construction of components to make energy efficient housing would generate thousands more jobs than military contracting.

Even just giving money away in the form of tax cuts to you and me has stimulated the economy to generate more jobs than building weapons does. Of course, this model used data from more robust times, before the Great Recession. With just released census data for 2009 showing one in seven now living in poverty (make that one in five children), a tax break nowadays might mean getting caught up on the rent, or saving your house from foreclosure, rather than consumer behavior that generates jobs.

People used to ridicule teachers for being paid so poorly vis a vis others with their level of education. But being a school teacher in central Maine is a solid job these days -- unless you get laid off when they cut teaching positions due to budget cuts, as happened to a French teacher, several elementary teachers, and half a math teacher at my high school. (How can you cut workers in half? The math teacher found a full time position elsewhere and resigned.) My sister in California told me a junior high school math teacher she knows has 44 students in one class this year. Somebody who used to teach 22 of those kids is on the unemployment line today.

Well, how much math does a kid need to know to operate a joystick and kill people by remote control?

No comments: