Economy, yes, but mostly it's jobs, pay


At Towson Town Center Mall, the clerk in the empty clothing store says this job will have to do until something better comes along. He's 36, downsized out of a corporate fast-track position that was supposed to last forever but did not.

The young fellow working at the french fries stand at Security Square Mall in Woodlawn says he hopes to put away $1,000 from this summer job he considers himself lucky to have found. He'll put the $1,000 toward this fall's college tuition. Which is close to $14,000.

In Washington, the brilliant fellows running for president are preparing to compare opinions about the economy. The man at the top, Bill Clinton, says things are going marvelously. The man who wishes to replace him, Bob Dole, says such talk is baloney, which it is, and says he'll show us why he's the man to fix it, which is debatable.

On Main Street in Annapolis, a woman in a souvenir shop says she brings home roughly $200 a week once the government takes its cut. It pays for the family groceries, she says, and not much more. It supplements her husband's paycheck. He works for the state but sees more cutbacks on the horizon.

Bob Dole says he'll tell the truth about the Clinton record on jobs. Not just yet he won't, but later, when the timing is right, when the Republicans convene in late summer, and he can gather the nation's attention and try to get some jolt into his polls. Bill Clinton says, terrific, let's talk about jobs. He says his administration has created 8 million of them since he took office. He says they pay good wages. He hopes nobody figures a way to quantify anxiety.

A father of three in Bel Air says it's life and death to pay the rent on his apartment each month. He's a cook at a pizza place. His wife, a college graduate, has a white-collar job in a warehouse and gets a few evening hours cashiering at the pharmacy at a nearby shopping strip. But a piece of that salary is eaten away to pay for a baby-sitter while she and her husband work simultaneously.

Bob Dole says he's almost ready to talk jobs now. He wasn't ready before, and everybody witnessed him in his humiliation, but now he says he's definitely almost ready. Before, when he was sinking in the New Hampshire Republican primary, when Patrick Buchanan was talking about job insecurity and international trade and thus winning unanticipated votes, it fell to a stunned Dole to clumsily and belatedly declare, gee, he didn't lTC know people wanted to talk about jobs but, gosh, if that's what's on their minds, well, OK.

Excuse us, but: He didn't know?

In Pikesville, this gray-haired lady with one hip higher than the other walks across a restaurant balancing a stack of trays in her hand. She asks customers if she can get them something moist to wipe their hands. No? Then, can she bring them a mint? She is unfailingly courteous and smiling. She is well past retirement age, but she needs the job.

Who doesn't?

Bill Clinton says, look at our record: low unemployment and low inflation. And the numbers back him up, but don't exactly address downsizing (not only corporate, but salary and lifestyle downsizing) and medical give-backs and those Bureau of Labor studies showing that the biggest job growth is in positions paying less than $20,000 a year. Like retail sales and cashiers, waitresses and food preparation workers. (In fact, seven of the top 10 jobs showing the most growth average about $350 a week, the government says.)

Bob Dole says, look at the high taxes, and the federal budget stubbornly unbalanced. Dole doesn't mention the corporate downsizing so much. He's a man traditionally more comfortable with the corporate types performing the downsizing, than with the folks actually being downsized. He's also a man who balked at raising the minimum wage.

On Highlandtown's Eastern Avenue, the shopkeepers say they still haven't recovered from the closing of the Esskay plant, whose paychecks supported a whole neighborhood and its businesses. On Liberty Road in Randallstown, a banker says he's fielding a lot of questions on second mortgages from people who realize they've now maxed their credit cards.

In Washington, Bill Clinton says it's time to overhaul welfare. He's unclear on the details, but it doesn't exactly matter. It's a traditional Republican issue, which Clinton wishes to take from them. Anyway, who needs welfare with the modern corporate game plan: you get rid of longtime employees, who tend to make decent money, and you bring in part-timers, bring in the former welfare recipients, bring in all the anxiety-ridden who are willing to work for a fraction of what the formerly employed were making.

We await the grand presidential debate about the economy, and wonder if either of the candidates will address the actual things that are happening in the American job market.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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