In the wake of disappointing national unemployment reports, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-D) has unveiled a proposal that is intended to create jobs primarily in America’s manufacturing, construction and transportation sectors.
“This has been a problem not just since the recession officially began a couple years ago, but I've seen this as an issue for the middle class for the past decade,” Lipinski said by phone from Washington, D.C. “I think there's a general concern among a lot of people, and I especially hear this in my district: 'Where are the jobs going to come from in the future?'”
To help revitalize middle class jobs, the proposal addresses the nation’s infrastructure, manufacturing, education and technological needs, while casting a critical eye on certain trade partners.
Atop the congressman’s list of ideas is the National Manufacturing Strategy Act (HR 1366), a bill he sponsored. If approved, President Barack Obama would be assigned with creating a nonpartisan board consisting of public and private sector professionals who make strategic manufacturing recommendations for governments, private companies, universities and industry associations, with a particular eye on nanotechnology innovations.
“I think America doesn't stand up for American workers,” Lipinski said.
In late June state lawmakers redrew congressional district boundaries. Lipinski , as well as several western and southwestern Chicago suburbs where many manufacturing companies reside.
Faisal Rahman, a professor of economics at Saint Xavier University’s Graham School of Management, gave Lipinski’s plan a favorable review. He said the United States needs to create about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with the increases in the labor force. Last month, employers only added 18,000 jobs to their payrolls.
"I think he's right on the nose,” Rahman said of Lipinski. “Our approach to solving the job crisis has to be aimed at not only our internal situation but our external relationships."
Lipinski said the United States could never enjoy a truly free market so long as countries like China continue to dump their products on American soil and manipulate currency exchange rates. He points to Germany as the beacon of a “robust economy” with free trade and high wages, made possible by a strong government-sponsored manufacturing strategy.
Rahman concurred, noting that "even though we are largely a service economy, I think a manufacturing base is important for a country to be a long-term industrial power."
With an eye on the hundreds of billions of dollars that the federal government spends each year on goods and services, Lipinski is also interested in closing loopholes that allow federal departments to evade “Buy American” mandates. Just last week the congressman signed legislation which challenged Obama for giving Mexican truckers free access into this country.
Lipinski contends that if China stopped devaluing its currency an estimated 500,000 to 2.25 million American jobs would be created to pick up the demand, but admits that “no one can have firm numbers on this.” By purchasing large amounts of American securities — to keep the exchange rate in their favor — the Chinese are among the top financiers of this nation’s debt, enabling Congress to continue spending while avoiding tax hikes.
To ease the nation's debt while funding recovery, Lipinski’s proposal mixes spending, government loans and incentives for private industry investment, because, he said, “It sometimes takes help from the government to get businesses off the ground and get businesses started."
To do that, he’s asking to double the financing for the Export-Import Bank, double the funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, establish a National Infrastructure Bank, improve training programs for customs agents and unemployed workers, and modernize air traffic control and railroad systems. From the latter project, $133 million has already been set aside to reduce delays on Metra’s Rock Island District and Southwest Service lines and another $20 million for an underpass at 71st Street in Bridgeview.
“In this environment it is very difficult to…get funding for new programs or additional funding for current programs,” Lipinski said. “But I think it's important that we look at agencies, programs that do have a track record of success. And sometimes you have to invest in order to have a bigger payoff down the road.”
As a percentage of GDP, Rahman said, America’s debt is considerably less than most nations. If there’s a silver lining to the “highly political and slightly silly” debt ceiling debates in Congress, Rahman added, it’s that lawmakers will have a better idea about which expenses are profligate and which are important.
A pdf of U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski’s proposal is available above or on his website for closer inspection.