The Pennsylvania economy remains very weak with high unemployment and sluggish job growth so far this year. Federal policymakers are partly to blame for cutting funding to schools and other services and not doing enough to support investments that build a stronger economy.
During the first showdown over the debt limit in July 2011, there were 514,000 Pennsylvanians actively looking for work. Since then, we have made very little progress, with growth in private-sector jobs offset by the tens of thousands of teachers and other public servants who have gotten pink slips. In August, more than 500,000 Pennsylvanians were still looking for but unable to find work.
The poster child of this policy failure is the 10th Congressional District represented by Congressman Tom Marino. The 10th is home to four of the top five counties in Pennsylvania in shale well drilling — Bradford (1), Tioga (2), Lycoming (4), and Susquehanna( 5). Yet between December 2010 and December 2012, the district has shed more than a thousand jobs. Most of those losses were in local government, particularly schools.
Given these employment trends, it is no surprise that the unemployment rate in the 10th Congressional District has barely budged from 8.5% in December 2010 to 8.3% today.
The 10th, like all of Pennsylvania, has been hit very hard by bad public policy choices and would have a much stronger labor market today had policymakers in Washington chosen to extend aid to state and local governments back in 2010. Instead, Washington cut aid, and Pennsylvania policymakers chose to shift most of the burden of those federal cutbacks onto public education. As result, the 10th District ended up losing more jobs than it gained even as it benefited from employment growth in natural gas development.
The lesson of the last two years has been lost on the 10th’s Representative Marino who even now several days into a shutdown is refusing to vote to end the shutdown unless the Affordable Care Act is repealed outright or delayed.
Should Pennsylvania policymakers choose to expand Medicaid, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, some 40,000 people in the 10th District, many of them currently working as cooks, servers and truck drivers, would for the first time be able to afford health insurance.
Prolonging the shutdown much longer will most certainly damage the Pennsylvania economy as would another government shutdown later this month when the U.S. Treasury is expected to hit the debt ceiling. The state’s delegation to the U.S. House should make jobs and the economy their first priority and pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government before lasting damage is done. It’s time for Congress to put an end to this culture of manufactured crisis and focus on getting Americans back to work.