The rising number of unemployed people is scary. In the nation, there are 8.3 million without jobs. In Arkansas, there are 67,700.
What really hurts our state is the loss of manufacturing workers, because those people usually make a living wage. In 1995, Arkansas had 246,000 of these workers, and now there are 203,700 and disappearing fast, just as they are all over the country.
The cause of a lot of this is offshore outsourcing. For example, IBM has announced it is going to replace American workers by hiring 3,000 employees overseas, who will work for much less than American workers are paid. The New York Times quotes researchers who are saying that more than 3.3 million jobs will be moved overseas by 2015.
Sen. John Edwards’ wife says she was shocked when she called on the phone to get her cable TV repaired and the technician who answered was in India. Of course Edwards complains about outsourcing and says he will stop it if he gets elected. His leading opponent, Sen. John Kerry, also dislikes it but says that after all, the government can’t pass a law forbidding it.
At least one member of Congress last week called for the firing of Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, for saying that outsourcing was “just a new way of doing international trade,” a “good thing” that would raise the American economy and free American workers to eventually get better jobs. Mankiw is trying to apologize for what he said, but the truth is that most economists agree with him. American-trained workers will help countries like India and China make better products and become richer so that they can buy more from the United States.
All that makes sense, but it will take a long time for it to happen. Meanwhile, the government should be doing something to help the economy and put people back to work, but all that President Bush proposes is to make his tax-cuts permanent even though we have a $7 trillion deficit. Right now, for example, he is about to make an administrative rules change (Congressional approval not required) that looks like an improvement but really isn’t.
The plan is to allow 1.3 million low-income government workers to be paid overtime for the first time. However, the plan would take overtime away from 8 million other workers by classifying them as part of management or professionals.
I think immigration should be slowed down to give Americans more chances to work.
Corporations that move their headquarters offshore to escape income taxes but still make all their decisions in the U.S. ought to be made to pay a special income tax.
The cost of medicine and health care should be reduced.
And the Congress should extend unemployment compensation and raise the minimum wage. The last time it was raised was in 1997, the second longest time without change in the history of the minimum wage.
Last week the company installing the River Rail Trolley announced that starting Sunday, the Main Street Bridge will be closed for at least a month while more work is done so trolleys can go back and forth on it.
That was a surprise for everyone and a trauma for the people who regularly use that bridge. Seventeen thousand vehicles go across it daily.
Every weekday morning, 12,651 people who live in North Little Rock have to cross one of the three bridges to go to work in Little Rock, and 6,988 Little Rock residents do likewise to get to their jobs in North Little Rock. Starting about 3:45 p.m., the same people are on the bridges again going home, and from 6:30 until 8:30 in the mornings and from 3:30 to 6 in the afternoon, it’s stop and go on the three bridges. If only two are open — and considering that one of them, the interstate bridge, is always packed with trucks and travelers’ cars — just think what it will be like.
The trolley workers started early in 2003. Can’t the contractors speed up a bit? Maybe using more men, working at night, etc. Business owners are complaining, especially those in the River Market and along Main Street in North Little Rock, where the planting of the rails goes on and on and on, making downtown hard to navigate..
Once they start operating, the trolleys will slow down traffic by narrowing the lanes in the busiest parts of the two cities. I never thought the River Rail Trolley was a good idea, not even for visitors. For one thing, the trolleys won’t take anyone anywhere near the new Arena in North Little Rock or the presidential library in Little Rock. I would have rather seen the $20 million spent repairing the streets and widening them.
But promoters argue that people will be charmed by trolleys and will want to ride them regularly and even stand in awe inside the $1.1 million Trolley Barn in North Little Rock to see the trolleys at rest. My prediction is that people will want to ride the trolleys once, and that will be it.
Maybe I don’t like them because I can remember those old steel tracks left in the streets when the trolleys were replaced with buses in 1936. Until the tracks were paved over, they chewed tires and made cars weave and bump.
The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce is now conducting a study of what will improve transportation in Pulaski County. I bet if that study had been made three years ago, we wouldn’t be having trolleys.