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Economic crisis is a poor time for political pettiness

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
September 2, 2011 4:01 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Last week, U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and other Republican leaders devoted themselves to quarreling with the White House about the timing of a presidential address to Congress.

The monumental question: Wednesday? Or Thursday?

Closer to home, the Tacoma Education Association continued its campaign to exaggerate the size of the school district’s rainy day fund and grab as much of it as possible.

Some people apparently have more pressing concerns than the economic hurricane that may be bearing down on the nation, the state and local governments – including the Tacoma School District.

Given the darkening skies, politicians, unions, employers ought to be collaborating anxiously on plans to survive the next couple of years. Not perpetuating old disputes that strike most people as petty and self-serving.

Friday’s report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics left little doubt that the United States is teetering on the brink of a new recession.

Tens of millions of Americans still out of work could be forgiven for thinking we’re still in the “great recession” that began in late 2007. But the U.S. economy has actually been adding jobs – albeit at a nearly invisible rate. Never assume that things can’t get worse.

The bureau now says that job-creation stopped dead in August. Many other indicators point to an economy that has begun rotting in place.

If there’s hopeful economic news out there, it’s doing a good job hiding itself. The national and state unemployment rates hover above 9 percent. The number of Americans who’ve searched unsuccessfully for work over the past year or were forced to accept part-time job – a better index of distress – stands around 16 percent.

The average workweek is down. Manufacturers are shedding jobs. The home-building industry – a crucial driver of growth – is in its biggest slump since the Commerce Department began tracking it in 1963.

Then there’s the stock market’s instability, Europe’s debt crisis, the contrived imbroglio over the U.S. debt ceiling, the downgrade of the federal government’s credit rating. Consumers, employers and investors – the people who pump money into the economy – are understandably nervous. Confidence – the intangible foundation of the markets – is faltering.

In Olympia, the September state revenue forecast may knock hundreds of millions of dollars out of current state programs. Washington’s public schools may well be affected – another good argument for Tacoma schools to keep money in the bank.

This is no time for business as usual, for political gridlock, for pointing fingers at the usual adversaries. We face an emergency. Let’s find what common ground there is and start putting up the sandbags.

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