As if it wasn’t already hard enough
to find a decent job after graduation, today a group of students,
laid-off workers and activists are kicking off the “Show Us
the Jobs” bus tour to promote the weakening economy. Yes,
read that sentence again — to promote the weakening
economy.

D.C. Lee

From March 24 through March 31, the “Show Us the
Jobs” bus tour will “bring together 51 people, one from
every state and the District of Columbia, to travel across the
country and tell their personal stories about how the lack of good
jobs has affected them, their family or their community.”
According to showusthejobs.com, these 51 people will “visit
eight states and 18 cities to talk about the devastating impact the
current economic policy has had on average Americans and
communities.”

The tour, organized by the AFL-CIO, is designed primarily to
counter similar trips by the Bush administration to promote the
economy. According to the AFL-CIO, “despite the so-called
‘economic recovery,’ hundreds of thousands of Americans
remain unemployed or underemployed, stuck in low-wage, no-benefits
jobs with limited job security.” The irony, of course, is
that labor unions like the AFL-CIO are at least partly responsible
for the problems they seek to remedy, and a nationwide bus tour is
an unlikely panacea. Questions regarding “Show Us the
Jobs” and the AFL-CIO’s involvement abound, and the
following paragraphs address three important issues.

First, it is not even clear the job market is as bad as the
“Show Us the Jobs” tour would have us believe.
According to the Labor Department, new claims for unemployment
insurance are at the lowest level since January 2001, and the
nation’s jobless rate of 5.6 percent is below those of
economic recoveries in the past. Thus, the bus tour’s
rationale that showcasing unemployment will counter misinformation
regarding economic recovery is as disingenuous as filling a bus
with 51 atheists and parading them around burnt down churches to
prove that another bus full of bishops can’t prove there is a
God.

Second, it is clear from reading the profiles of the 51
individuals on the bus tour that most of them have a misplaced
sense of entitlement. For example, the Michigan representative, a
26-year-old Brooklyn College of Law graduate, complains that she
works for $8 an hour in a deli “even though (she) passed the
bar exam in New York.” She then concludes that “either
Bush needs to realign his economic priorities and concentrate on
creating good jobs for America, or we need a new person in the
White House.” In short, what she seems to be saying is:
“I went to law school and passed the bar exam. Therefore I
deserve a good job. If I don’t get a good job, however, and I
end up working in a deli for $8 an hour, it’s the
president’s fault.”

The problem with thinking like this is that it relies on the
unfounded assumption that people who go to school and graduate are
entitled to work in the field of their choice. Moreover, thinking
like this discourages people from taking personal responsibility
for their life choices and encourages the government to intervene
inappropriately with simple market forces. The government’s
role in creating jobs is more nuanced than many people think. It
relies on market incentives, tax credits and subsidies. The
government cannot, however, form a law firm and hire every
unemployed Brooklyn College of Law graduate.

Finally, the great irony of the “Show Us the Jobs”
bus tour is that its sponsor is responsible, at least in part, for
the problem it seeks to remedy. The AFL-CIO is well known for
increasing the wages of the workers it represents. Representatives
of the AFL-CIO work primarily in manufacturing and production, the
very jobs companies are outsourcing to foreign countries with
significantly lower labor costs. The resulting loss of American
jobs is not surprising, but the AFL-CIO’s myopic view of
economic reality is alarming. Instead of attempting to remedy the
situation with a proactive approach to innovation and new markets,
the unions have decided to throw their support — financial
and get out the vote — behind labor-friendly Democratic
presidential candidate John Kerry.

Kerry, however, like the “Show Us the Jobs” bus
tour, is an unlikely panacea. There is no job fairy. And even if
there were, she wouldn’t go by “John Kerry.”

Lee can be reached at
“mailto:leedc@umich.edu”>leedc@umich.edu.

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