By Murtaza Baxamusa| Published in SDNN.com | December 22, 2009 |
Our economic crisis was not an accident. Instead of paying workers to produce goods, corporations paid executives in Wall Street to blow financial bubbles. San Diego’s manufacturing base was whittled away to China, Mexico, and other places with lax wage standards, while the service sector swelled.
Through the past two decades, the San Diego region had been adding proportionally more jobs at the low end of the pay scale than jobs at the high end of the pay scale. Since 1990, the number of jobs in the bottom fourth of the wage scale has increased 24 times the number of jobs in the top quarter. The result of this imbalanced growth has been a shrinking middle class, rising inequality, and the lowest average wage per job among comparable metros, when adjusted for the cost of living.
If the middle class is the central pillar of San Diego’s economic recovery, its strength lies in a robust and well-maintained infrastructure. As a result, San Diego’s economic recovery is contingent on how the public service delivery system absorbs the shocks rippling through the economy. Our citizens rely on quality-of-life standards that the city provides, from clean and safe neighborhoods, to public libraries and parks. And local businesses, in particular, build up from the talent and human resources attracted to San Diego.
Nationally, the historical record stands. Twice in the past during times of high unemployment (New Deal and post World War II), Uncle Sam successfully turned to large-scale programs of job creation. These efforts have created lasting infrastructure in the parks, bridges and highways that made sustained growth possible.
The Great Depression was fought by the New Deal, which rebuilt the public structures that made possible half a century of innovation and progress in the nation. When Wall Street turns its back on Main Street, the government needs to step in. These programs also laid the foundation of “good jobs” in the private sector that include fair labor standards, child labor laws, and elimination of workplace discrimination for millions of women and people of color. These government actions spurred the housing demand by veterans, and guaranteed that our bank deposits were safe. We can build on those successes to create local jobs and increased household income in the communities most severely affected by the economic downturn.
Public agencies across the region, including the City of San Diego, need to respond to the crisis by putting the issue of good local jobs at the forefront of the economic considerations, and invest in the quality of life that we are trying to sustain.
The economic impact of public projects is significant. For example, the City of San Diego will be spending more than $400 million in public works and capital improvements projects in fiscal 2010. Coupled with federal investments, these public programs are a powerful engine to put some of the hardest hit sectors of the economy (construction and manufacturing) back to work. For every $1 million spent on infrastructure, $1.6 million additional is in turn generated, and 19.5 jobs get created in the economy. These jobs impact every segment of the economy, from contractors and suppliers, to grocery clerks and manufacturers.
Decades of erosion of public infrastructure has accelerated the need for prompt collective action. San Diego’s middle-class needs to get to work, to a safe, healthy and dignified job, that is not at the mercy of the vicissitudes of Wall Street.
This is an excerpt from posts that originally appeared in SDNN’s Pocket Change on Dec.22, 2009.