Deceiving The Cities
THE GRIM UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES released last week are more dismaying than shocking. The administration's harsh economic package of tight money and crippling cuts in social spending all but guaranteed that the nation's job-less rate would reach the 8.9-per-cent mark it did last month--the second highest monthly figure since 1941. But sadly, the job situation seems almost certain to worsen this year, under the weight of the President's new--but still oppressive--economic initiatives. Equally discouraging, America's ailing inner cities again seem first on the White House's chopping block for 1982.
Administration officials this week indicated that President Reagan has tentatively approved a plan to create up to 75 urban "enterprise zones" in rundown urban areas; businesses locating in each zone would receive a battery of tax cuts and credits that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually. But while supporters advertise the enterprise zone plan as an economic stimulus, its massive tax-writeoffs will create few new jobs for the needy and force the Administration to slash further the support services so crucial to urban areas.
Under a tentative zone proposal drafted by Reagan intimate Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.), businesses that deserted marginal economic areas for one of the zones would receive massive tax breaks. Meanwhile, thousands of workers in the business's old neighborhood would be thrust onto unemployment rolls. The zone plan guarantees no new jobs or job training--making it all too easy for businesses to nab giant tax breaks by hiring a few residents of the zone as custodial workers. Indeed, housing and other social service budgets that largely support America's inner cities would continue to shrink or disappear--making any hope for urban revival through the zone plan dim at best.
We do not oppose tax breaks to inner city businesses on principle; we do, however, demand that any such incentive be tied to a business' success in providing jobs to the unemployed without firing others. The Kemp-Garcia plan, like so many of the president's initiatives, is merely a sop to what budget director Stockman recently called the "hogs" of American business. Full employment--not the welfare of General Motors--must be our nation's top economic priority. We reiterate our support for the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment proposal, and urge the Democrats to devise creative alternatives to the Reagan tax-break smoke screen.
The continuing Republican onslaught against social spending threatens to fill even more cities with the blocks of rubble and zones of poverty that pockmark New York, Detroit, and other major metropolises. Unemployment in many hovers well over 10 per cent. Among Black city dwellers, it is unconscionably high--16.1 per cent overall and 42 per cent for Black teenagers. The $31 billion in budget cuts proposed by Stockman will only make those statistics worse, as job training programs, unemployment compensation, and large chunks of other welfare programs go by the boards.
If 1981 proved anything on the domestic front, it is that appeals to compassion will do precious little to check the Reagan Administration's forays against the urban poor. It is thus a practical warning that we offer this nation's conservative leadership. When British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared war on her cities with a series of draconian policies in many ways similar to President Reagan's, the cities erupted with a wave of violence that negated any minute economic gains from her initiatives. The magnitude of the Reagan cutbacks makes that scenario all too possible here. It would be ironic indeed if the Administration's quest for economic growth undermined the social peace that America's conservatives so desperately desire.