A man went into a bank and handed the teller a note demanding one dollar and health care. He wasn’t crazy. He was desperate. The robber had been employed for a number of years until he got laid off due to The Great Recession. He cut his expenses and was getting by as a part-time clerk at a convenience store, but his health started failing and he couldn’t lift the stock onto shelves. He got fired. He could move in with his sister, but she couldn’t afford to pay for his health care any more than he could.
So he decided to rob a bank. Bank robbery, he knew, was a felony and he figured he would be sent to jail, the only place where he was certain to receive the health care he needed without having to pay for it. At trial he told the judge that if his sentence was too light he would keep robbing banks until he got sufficient jail time. Farfetched? The story is true, reported in a startling book called, “Greedy Bastards,” by Dylan Ratigan.
This sluggish economy is creating a permanent underclass, many of whom were formerly middle class. For the third month in a row North Carolina’s unemployment rate was stuck at 9.4 percent, fourth highest in the nation. Most agree this number is actually higher because it doesn’t reflect the large number who have given up and aren’t even registered with the Employment Security Commission.
We’ve listened to the political rhetoric about job creation being our number one priority, but so far there’s more talk than action. The private sector clearly isn’t creating enough new jobs, even though we are told corporate treasuries are at all time highs. In the public sector budget and job cuts are the order of the day. Wall Street has more ups and downs than a pogo stick. The fundamental problem is we don’t have confidence in our economy.
North Carolina has been in recession most of this past decade and has lost more than 300,000 jobs since 2007, suffering more than most states. What we are doing is obviously not working to stimulate our economy. Doing little or nothing won’t make things better. It’s time to try something different, something guaranteed to put people to work. And yes, state government must have a role to play in that plan.
We propose a statewide capital improvement plan, selling tax-exempt bonds. Our plan would be targeted to public infrastructure improvement and would create thousands of jobs if designed and overseen by a non-partisan group. Our aging public infrastructure doesn’t need help. Several years ago the Society of Civil Engineers estimated it would require more than 40 billion dollars to build or repair the needed roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, airports, schools and other public buildings in our state. With North Carolina’s Triple-A credit rating we could easily borrow the money at historically low rates and we can handle the debt load. Job creation, infrastructure improvement and an economic boost – a win-win plan.
It’s time politicians started acting like leaders and demonstrated some confidence in our state and its people. We need to jump-start the economy. Let’s go to work. We can do this.