America’s Biggest Jobs Program - the US Military
by: Robert Reich
America’s biggest — and only major — jobs program is the U.S. military.
Over 1,400,000 Americans are now on active duty; another 833,000 are
in the reserves, many full time. Another 1,600,000 Americans work in
companies that supply the military with everything from weapons to
utensils. (I’m not even including all the foreign contractors
employing non-US citizens.)
If we didn’t have this giant military jobs program, the U.S.
unemployment rate would be over 11.5 percent today instead of 9.5
And without our military jobs program personal incomes would be
dropping faster. The Commerce Department reported Monday the only
major metro areas where both net earnings and personal incomes rose
last year were San Antonio, Texas, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and
Washington, D.C. — because all three have high concentrations of
military and federal jobs.
This isn’t an argument for more military spending. Just the opposite.
Having a giant undercover military jobs program is an insane way to
keep Americans employed. It creates jobs we don’t need but we keep
anyway because there’s no honest alternative. We don’t have an overt
jobs program based on what’s really needed.
For example, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Monday his
plan to cut spending on military contractors by more than a quarter
over three years, congressional leaders balked. Military contractors
are major sources of jobs back in members’ states and districts.
California’s Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the top Republican on the House
Armed Services Committee, demanded that the move “not weaken the
nation’s defense.” That’s congress-speak for “over my dead body.”
Gates simultaneously announced closing the Joint Force Command in
Norfolk, Virginia, that employs 6,324 people and relies on 3,300
private contractors. This prompted Virginia Democratic Senator Jim
Webb, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to warn that
the closure “would be a step backward.” Translated: “No chance in
Gates can’t even end useless weapons programs. That’s because they’re
covert jobs programs that employ thousands.
He wants to stop production of the C-17 cargo jet he says is no longer
needed. But it keeps 4,000 people working at Boeing’s Long Beach
assembly plant and 30,000 others at Boeing suppliers strategically
located in 40 states. So despite Gates’s protests the Senate has
approved ten new orders.
That’s still not enough to keep all those C-17 workers employed, so
the Pentagon and Boeing have been hunting for foreign purchasers. The
Indian Air Force is now negotiating to buy ten, and talks are underway
with several other nations, including Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Ever wonder why military equipment is one of America’s biggest
exports? It’s our giant military jobs program in action.
Gates has also been trying to stop production of a duplicate engine
for the F-25 joint Strike Fighter jet. He says it isn’t needed and
doesn’t justify the $2.9 billion slated merely to develop it.
But the unnecessary duplicate engine would bring thousands of jobs to
Indiana and Ohio. Cunningly, its potential manufacturers Rolls-Royce
and General Electric created a media blitz (mostly aimed at
Washington, D.C. where lawmakers wold see it) featuring an engine
worker wearing a “Support Our Troops” T-shirt and arguing the
duplicate engine will create 4,000 American jobs. Presto. Despite a
veto threat from the White House, a House panel has just approved
funding the duplicate.
By the way, Gates isn’t trying to cut the overall Pentagon budget. He
just wants to trim certain programs to make room for more military
spending with a higher priority.
The Pentagon’s budget — and its giant undercover jobs program — keeps
expanding. The President has asked Congress to hike total defense
spending next year 2.2 percent, to $708 billion. That’s 6.1 percent
higher than peak defense spending during the Bush administration.
This sum doesn’t even include Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs,
nuclear weapons management, and intelligence. Add these, and next
year’s national security budget totals about $950 billion.
That’s a major chunk of the entire federal budget. But most deficit
hawks don’t dare cut it. National security is sacrosanct.
Yet what’s really sacrosanct is the giant jobs program that’s
justified by national security. National security is a cover for job
This is nuts.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a jobs program that created things we
really need — like light-rail trains, better school facilities, public
parks, water and sewer systems, and non-carbon energy sources — than
things we don’t, like obsolete weapons systems?
Historically some of America’s biggest jobs programs that were
critical to the nation’s future have been justified by national
defense, although they’ve borne almost no relation to it. The National
Defense Education Act of the late 1950s trained a generation of math
and science teachers. The National Defense Highway Act created
millions of construction jobs turning the nation’s two-lane highways
into four- and six-lane Interstates.
Maybe this is the way to convince Republicans and blue-dog Democrats
to spend more federal dollars putting Americans back, and working on
things we genuinely need: Call it the National Defense Full Employment