What We’ve Learned from Wisconsin

The pundits and talking heads pontificating about the ruckus in Madison are missing a fundamental point. This standoff is not about Democrats and Republicans. The real fight is about jobs. The Badger State has the highest concentration of workers in the manufacturing sector in America, along with Indiana. But manufacturing, which provides jobs for about 15 percent of the workforce and accounts for some one-fifth of the total state economy, has been hit hard over the last decade. Many of the jobs, such as the automotive jobs in Janesville and Kenosha, will not come back. Today, Wisconsin has 155,200 fewer jobs than it did at the start of the recession. That’s a loss of five percent of the total job base — one in twenty of the state’s jobs. The number of unemployed now matches the bad old days of the early 1980s, when more than a quarter million Wisconsin adults were out of work. It does not have to be this way. We can tell the politicians in Washington to reform our trade laws so we can create good paying jobs in Wisconsin and across America. For example, if we pressed Congress to lift arbitrary restrictions on U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba, we could create thousands of jobs tied to the value-added processing of our American bounty of food and forest products. More than $5.4 million in annual exports of Wisconsin cheese, beef, soybeans, corn and potatoes would spur hundreds of new jobs in the state. Nationally, we could create more than 31,000 jobs here at home by selling $1.24 billion in food to Cuba annually according to a study by two agricultural economists at Texas A&M University. That report also noted that these increased farm exports would add up to $3.6 billion more annually in related economic output to our economy, including rice and processed chicken from Arkansas, soybeans and pork chops from Iowa, cotton and softwood lumber from Texas, beef from Kansas and Nebraska and flour, dry beans and sunflower oil from North Dakota. That’s a lot of jobs. These new hires would help boost the local tax base by adding revenue to pay for schools, public safety and new infrastructure at the local level. By working together, we can demand that our elected officials change course to save the middle class and the American dream. Soon, the House and Senate will be considering several free trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama. Will these pacts help American workers who need employment and American farmers who need markets or will they aid Wall Street and the corporations that are moving to outsource more jobs overseas? If our members of Congress don’t hear from us then they will act at the behest of the K Street lobbyists and special interests. Now is the time to take action.