“It’s the Economy, Stupid” – Occupy Pennsylvania and Legislative Priorities

Like most Americans, Pennsylvanians want jobs, fair taxation, and smarter spending… but all they’re getting are ill-advised spending cuts, bickering across party lines and moral grandstanding about women’s healthcare. 

A few weeks ago, the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement for corporate accountability that attracted so much attention on Wall Street, came to Pennsylvania. Local Occupiers set up camp in Philadelphia in the first week of October, and in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on October 16th.

 These Occupations have sponsored a broad range of activities from civil disobedience in Philadelphia, to children’s story hours, community art projects and anti-police violence demonstrations in Pittsburgh, to a Halloween party and protest parade this past weekend in Harrisburg. Occupiers are notably politically and intellectually diverse, residing in a tent city where Marxists sleep next door to Ron Paul libertarians, who share donated food and resources with union leaders and die-hard Obama supporters.

In fact, they are so politically diverse that they’ve been widely mocked as disorganized and unable to reach consensus. Critics have publicly asked, “What are these Occupiers so angry about?” These charts speak to the varied interests of the demonstrations’ participants.

The Occupiers are a diverse group, and they don’t all want to end the Federal Reserve or elect the Green Party. But the demands and grievances they do share resonate with many Americans; according to a recent Associated Press poll, over one-third of Americans support the Occupy movement.

According to The Huffington Post:

The protesters cite the economic crisis as a key reason for their unhappiness. The unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent nationally. Many homeowners owe more than their homes are worth. Foreclosures are rampant. And many young people – the key demographic of the protesters – can’t find jobs or live on their own.

The most consistent key factor in all this anger – repeated twice in the above quotation – is unemployment. Jobs. People who had jobs lost them; people looking for jobs can’t find them; people who have jobs are dealing with cuts in their hours, pay, and benefits that make it harder to support themselves on those jobs. People in bad job situations can’t leave their jobs because they wouldn’t be able to find another source of income. All this job anxiety makes people’s lives uncertain, and that uncertainty is causing anger, frustration, and restlessness among American citizens.

You’d imagine that lawmaking officials in our state, wanting to get re-elected, would be scrambling to pass legislation that would create more job opportunities for the 8.2% of the Pennsylvania labor force that was reported out of work in September 2011.

This has not come to pass. In the past year, PA has slashed the budgets for public education (which gives people the work skills they need to get jobs), libraries (which enable people without home internet access to fill out online job applications), and public transportation (which gets people to and from their jobs). This is, of course, to say nothing of the people currently hired by schools, libraries, and bus and train companies who will be laid off as these cuts take effect. 

Pennsylvania’s current policies lay the groundwork for massive, long-term unemployment on a much larger scale than we’re seeing right now – and that’s just what the legislature is doing in its spare time!

In the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent a whopping one-third of their voting session days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion at a time when and one in six children in the state lives in poverty.

Our lawmakers need to check their priorities soon, or Pennsylvania’s children – who are already suffering – will grow up with fewer job opportunities than their parents have right now. Although not everyone is rushing to Occupy the nearest city, most agree with the message that PA’s legislators could serve constituents better by making economic recovery a priority.

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