Curb the militarized economy
by Sharon Zimmerman, WAND Deputy Director
Published: August 30, 2012 by The Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Labor Day and school openings seem to go together. For me, it’s time for the social welfare policy course I teach at the Boston University School of Social Work each fall. Throughout the semester I will hear stories from students about their clients who desperately need jobs, housing, education, food, and health care.
Evidence the students present will show that the services and programs designed to help them climb out of poverty continue to dwindle. The narratives are heartbreaking, and often horrific. They are accounts of people who would do anything to improve their lives, make changes, and leave the poverty, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, and loneliness behind.
When, in 1894, Congress enacted legislation making Labor Day a national holiday, the intention was to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers and the contributions workers have made to the prosperity and well-being of our country. The hard truth is that our current national unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. Not all Americans who want to work are working and almost one in four American children is living below our national poverty line. Things clearly need to improve in this country for the unemployed and the working poor in order for all of us to truly be able to celebrate the intended meaning of Labor Day.
These sobering statistics can change if we reprioritize how we spend our federal dollars. Two minutes’ worth of federal spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would pay for two high school graduates to attend Boston University for four years each. Two minutes of war. Two undergraduate degrees.
The $16.6 billion in taxes from Massachusetts that went into the Department of Defense’s FY2012 budget could have funded 1.9 million Head Start slots in Massachusetts for a year. Currently, more than 20,000 children who should be enrolled in Head Start in Massachusetts, are not.
Taxpayers in Boston paid $1.3 billion toward the FY2012 Department of Defense budget. For the same amount of money, more than 16,000 Boston elementary school teachers could be hired full-time for one entire school year.
Some say cutting the Pentagon budget means military industrial complex jobs will be lost. However, a shift in dollars to create jobs in other employment sectors would both increase the number of jobs and employed Americans, as well as increase the value of those jobs to our country. This makes good political and economic sense.
The University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute studied how many jobs could be created with $1billion of federal spending; the reality is that investing our tax dollars in education, health care, mass transit, weatherization, or middle-class tax cuts, creates more jobs than Pentagon spending does.
We are spending more than $30 billion per year to maintain our oversized and outdated nuclear weapons arsenal. There are many expensive weapons that the Pentagon does not need or want, but Congress votes to keep the funds flowing anyway. There are ridiculous cost overruns and wasteful spending on military contractors. Procurement scandals are almost the rule rather than the exception.
This spring, Americans learned of a $17,000 oil pan made by a politically connected defense contractor. Defense lobbyists work for corporate self-interests that result in congressional dysfunction.
Congress needs to stop appropriating limited dollars as pork for well-heeled defense industry contractors.
With automatic “sequester” cuts (a plan to cut federal spending over the next decade) scheduled to go into effect in January 2013, it is time to critically examine our Pentagon budget. It makes up 56 percent of federal discretionary spending and has increased every year since 1998.
Some members of Congress want to exempt the Pentagon budget while domestic programs like public education, mass transit, medical research and clean energy are slashed even further. It is far more important to our security to ensure that our economy is prospering through job creation based on innovation and entrepreneurship, than it is to stockpile nuclear weapons and line the pockets of overpaid defense contractors.
This Labor Day, let’s celebrate our economic achievements as a nation, as we have many. Let’s also shift our priorities as a nation. Let’s move forward with a budget and spending plan that is driven by American values like hard work, equal opportunity, humanitarianism and democracy. Let’s get people trained and retrained, and employed and better employed. Let’s pay for programs and projects that help get people out of poverty and into jobs.
And let’s put an end to this outdated, excessive, militarized spending.
Sharon Zimmerman is the deputy director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), an adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, and sits on the board of Greater Boston’s Association of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).