What About Jobs?
Corporations that rely on military contracts are highlighting the jobs that Pentagon spending provides to argue that Pentagon spending should not be reduced significantly. With so many people struggling to find work, this argument is compelling. Yet preserving Pentagon spending because of jobs isolates this spending from the jobs generated by other priorities in the budget.
So far, cuts in discretionary federal spending have largely fallen on non-defense programs. These cuts have resulted in job losses for teachers, construction workers and others. Under current law, the federal government is required to cut at least $1.2 trillion more from the federal budget over the next 10 years. If the Pentagon's share of these cuts is rolled back, further cuts and job losses will fall disproportionately on other areas of the budget.
Congress has an obligation to make choices about how the government should and shouldn’t spend its money, looking at the impact that spending has on jobs throughout the economy and making choices to help sustain local economies over the long term.
If job creation is the objective, investments in other sectors will create far more jobs than even the most lucrative Pentagon contract (see chart at right). These jobs also represent investments in sectors that contribute to better education for our children, better quality and more accessible health care, and cleaner air and water.
Here are some more factors in the jobs discussion:
Not all cuts in Pentagon spending have a direct impact on jobs in the United States. Congress could close unnecessary bases overseas, end hundreds of billions of dollars lost to waste and fraud, lower the profit margins of some of the major Pentagon contractors, and increase the efficiency of many internal processes without having a significant effect on U.S. jobs.
Other options, such as reducing the number of Navy ships or retiring two Air Force fighter wings, could lead to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. But these jobs do not disappear overnight.
The Pentagon often changes its plans to develop or purchase new weapons and vehicles. Manufacturing is phased out over a period of years, during which time affected companies and communities have time to pursue many options. Often, the choice is to seek another Defense Department contract. Some of the more nimble and innovative firms seek to diversify, minimizing their dependence on one customer.
Corporate decisions about where to manufacture a product can seriously affect local economies, due to the size of some of the largest defense contractors, such as Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. Not many towns in the U.S. are one-company towns these days, but areas that rely heavily on these contracts can be in a precarious position due to this dependence and would be strengthened by developing industries with a more diverse customer base.
In the current budget climate, jobs are going to be cut. The question is how the cuts will be distributed. Given that Pentagon spending is not well-designed to be a job creation or employment program, Congress should be looking to invest in other sectors to put more people to work. And, for all workers whose jobs are lost because of reductions in many different types of federal spending, Congress needs to be active to help them meet basic needs and find work again.