by Bill Fletcher, Jr.
January 21, 2010
(NNPA) - In the midst of the 2008 financial collapse the public was told that Wall Street needed to be saved otherwise we faced total economic disaster. We were also told that so-called Main Street, that is our communities, would also receive badly needed assistance. In fact, the Obama stimulus package was to be aimed at speaking to the needs of Main Street.
The drawbridge between the two ''streets'' seems to be stuck in the up position. While Wall Street has largely been saved from total catastrophe, and many financial institutions have actually grown as a result of the crisis, the plight of regular working people has stagnated or worsened. Yes, it is true that the economy is shedding fewer jobs than a year ago, but the point is that the economy continues to shed jobs rather than add jobs. Thus, once again we face the prospect of what has come to be known as a ''jobless recovery.''
The depths of the current economic crisis go beyond what most of us that have grown up since the Depression are familiar with. Yet what we are experiencing did not just start to happen in the fall of 2008 or the end of 2007 (when the recession officially came about). There has been a slow-moving decline in living standards going on since the mid-1970s and some communities, particularly communities of color, have suffered badly.
When the discussion of the stimulus package was raised this seemed to be the right direction to go. Tax cuts and other Republican magical devices would not work. Yet, true to form, the Obama administration chose to proceed cautiously rather than put the funds into the stimulus that were truly needed. The second problem is that it has taken a long time for the stimulus funds to get where they are needed. The third problem is that too much of the thinking around the stimulus focuses on the immediate victims of this current recession rather than thinking about the long-term victims of our brave new economy.
Ironically, the political Right is attacking the Obama administration for paying too much attention to Wall Street. Certainly if the Republicans were in power they would have done even less for Main Street, but who bothers with the facts? The political Right is playing off of increasing anger among white victims of the economic crisis in order to focus them on looking for scapegoats, whether those scapegoats are Jews, immigrants, gays/lesbians or, yes, Black folks. If the Obama administration does not move quickly to preempt this right-wing demagoguery huge sections of the population will not only be drawn into irrationalism, but people will not bother to pay attention to any efforts by the Administration to address Main Street.
Significant effort must go into jobs and economic development, but it is an effort that must be linked to local initiatives at rebuilding. Not only should funds go to those who have recently lost their jobs, but there must be attention to sites of chronic unemployment, such as the Camden, New Jerseys or Flint, Michigans. That means that it is more than just sending in funds, but funds must also be accompanied by the creation of local economic development boards that work to plan how the funds can be used in order to build a sustainable local economy. Anything less and it will only result in pouring water into a draining bathtub.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the co-author of ''Solidarity Divided.''