We've all seen the dismal reports of this recession in the papers. We all probably know someone who's personally felt its effects. Job losses in September reached 263,000, the worst in 26 years, and the real economy shows few signs of a near recovery.
Signs of a longer-term decline in real wages are also troubling: The 2001 recession was the first in which median incomes didn't bounce back afterward. A recent AFL-CIO report shows that only 31 percent of those under 35 make enough to cover their bills—and that the rates of unemployment and underemployment are much higher for younger workers.
At the same time, the United States is still mired in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. government spent an estimated $624 billion on the military, plus $188 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. This is about 12 times what the U.S. spent on education in 2008.
So we have billions of dollars going toward wars without a foreseeable end-point or concrete benefit, and thousands of U.S. citizens without jobs. Congress has long argued to keep military projects in their districts because they keep constituents employed. But is the military really the best way to create jobs?
Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst asked in a new study: What if the government took some of the money going toward the military and spent it instead on jobs in other sectors?
Commissioned by the Institute for Policy Studies and Women's Action for New Directions, the report shows that the federal government could generate thousands more jobs, both directly and indirectly, by focusing spending on health care, education, or clean energy rather than on defense.
For $1 billion, researchers found, the government could create 7,100 military jobs, 7,500 clean energy jobs, 10,400 health care jobs, and 16,900 education jobs. If Congress is serious about ending this recession, it's clear they need to take a closer look at the job creation potential of our taxpayer dollars.
Jennifer Doak is the outreach and production coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies. You can follow the IPS Twitter account at www.twitter.com/ipsdc_dotorg. Miriam Pemberton is a research fellow with Foreign Policy In Focus. www.fpif.org.