Home > Uncategorized > Big Government and Racial Equality are Joined at the Hip. Could THAT Be the Reason the GOP Does Not Support Aid to State and Local Governments as Part of Pandemic Relief?

Big Government and Racial Equality are Joined at the Hip. Could THAT Be the Reason the GOP Does Not Support Aid to State and Local Governments as Part of Pandemic Relief?

February 27, 2021

AFL-CIO officer Lee Saunders and anti-poverty advocate William Barber III co-authored a Common Dream posts titled “Austerity as Fake News: It Is Time to Bury the Myth that a Race to the Bottom Will Get US to the Top“. The article argues that government policy during a financial crisis presents a fork in the road for policy makers: they can either support more government funded jobs or undercut the role government can play in job creation and retention. Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber assert that in the last government crisis, the market meltdown in 2008, the government made the wrong choice and, in doing so, eliminated government jobs that employed many minorities who have already experienced a history of economic disenfranchisement by government policy for decades. 

Through their work in public education, public transit and public health, millions of African Americans have been able both to provide for their families and strengthen their communities. But now, those jobs are on the chopping block. Without federal aid, more layoffs loom, dragging down the entire job market with it. How do we know? The same thing happened a decade ago.

With the nation in the throes of the Great Recession, politicians of both parties responded by drastically cutting spending. Austerity became the watchword. Right-wing activist Grover Norquist, who once famously said he wanted to shrink government to a size he could drown in the bathtub, had his day in the sun. States and communities nationwide slashed public services to the bone, and African American families took the biggest hit. In 2012, 200,000 fewer African Americans held public sector jobs than just four years earlier.

When I read this analysis, a light bulb went off. When the GOP was in control of spending, one of their non-negotiable items in formulating the second round of pandemic relief was the demand that no funds be allowed to help state governments fill budget gaps. This stance was built into the 2017 tax package, which included a provision that limited the deductions for state and local taxes, a notion that was disingenuously promoted as a way to shift the tax burden to wealthy citizens. What this gambit would do in the long run is gut government services at all levels, especially in those states who offered robust safety nets and jobs that enabled wage earners to “provide for their families and strengthen communities”. 

Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber assert that we have not learned from our experience of a decade ago:

Ten years later, inexplicably, we are in danger of making the same public policy mistakes again. It is devastating enough that African Americans are disproportionately contracting Covid-19 and dying at higher rates than the population at-large. But because of the gutting of public services, we are also being pummeled economically. In just a year’s time, between September 2019 and September 2020, the number of Black people on the nation’s public payrolls shrunk by 211,000. This is one of the critical, yet often unspoken, reasons the pandemic has raged out of control. Giving pink slips to the very people who can bring the virus to heel is the worst possible crisis management strategy.

And things will get worse if Congress does not step in. Who will get shots into arms if more public health professionals are axed? How will laid off Americans get the unemployment benefits they have paid into when states shed more claims processors? How will small businesses survive when basic services like sanitation, clean water and road maintenance—normally so dependable that they are never included in any business model—erode even further?

Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber do not state the obvious: the GOP has conflated government anti-poverty spending with providing assistance to “undeserving recipients”, and when they speak of “undeserving recipients” they refer implicitly or explicitly to the “Welfare Queens” Ronald Reagan wrongfully singled out decades ago. The article concludes with these paragraphs:

In the immediate term, we need Congress to come through with emergency aid to save these jobs and services. But in the long term, to vanquish the virus, build a prosperous economy for all and ensure that people earn a living wage as well, it is time to bury for good the fake news of austerity: that somehow a race to the bottom will take us to the top.

This is the moment to remind people about the power of government action, especially but not exclusively during moments of crisis. When it is run competently, when public services are performed by dedicated and compassionate people, government can affirm human dignity, provide basic needs and improve lives on a grand scale.

Let’s get public service workers back on the job and bring back real investment in the essential services that sustain us all.


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