New figures out today from the Labor Department show that employers added 187,000 jobs in August, up but at a slower rate than the red-hot job market has been adding since the pandemic. Unemployment ticked up to 3.8%, in part because of the 37,000 jobs lost when the trucking company Yellow declared bankruptcy. The economy appears to be steadying, with only 1.5 jobs for every person looking, down from the 2 openings in early 2022.
As the hiring frenzies of the past two years calm down, economists expect job growth to continue in health care and education, which have made up 85% of the job growth in the past three months. After that, government investments in infrastructure under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, renewable energy thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, and semiconductor manufacturing thanks to the CHIPS and Science Act are likely to keep demand growing.
The economic numbers for the Biden administration are remarkable and demonstrate the strength of the system under which the government operated from 1933 to 1981: the idea that investing in ordinary Americans builds the economy far more efficiently than so-called "supply-side economics." That economic ideology, advanced by the Reagan Republicans, claimed that cutting regulations and concentrating wealth at the top of the economy would enable business leaders to invest in the economy efficiently, cutting costs and driving economic growth.
But that vision has never produced as promised, while it has dramatically concentrated wealth and power since it went into effect in 1981. "Bidenomics" is a rejection of that theory and a return to the economic vision that built the country in the fifty years before it. Investing in infrastructure and programs that help ordinary Americans puts money and the power of innovation into their hands, driving the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, as Biden puts it.
In a reflection of the plan to use the government to help those at the bottom of the economy, the administration yesterday canceled $72 million in student loans for 2,300 borrowers who were cheated by the for-profit Ashford College, which was purchased in 2020 by the University of Arizona. It says it will try to recoup the money from the University of Arizona, which denies any responsibility for the actions of Ashford or its parent company, the education technology services company Zovio.
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to focus on ending abortion, and their determination is leading them to assert power over citizens of Republican-dominated states in a way that is commonly associated with authoritarian governments.
Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall claimed in a court filing on Monday that Alabama, which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, can prosecute people who help women travel out of the state to obtain an abortion as part of a "criminal conspiracy."
Today, Caroline Kitchener reported in the Washington Post that at least 51 jurisdictions in Texas have passed ordinances to make it illegal to transport anyone on roads within city or county limits to get an abortion. Their hope is to target interstates and the roads around airports to block off routes out of Texas and keep pregnant women trapped in the antiabortion state.
The laws also allow any private citizen to sue any person or organization they think is violating the ordinance, leading to expensive lawsuits against the friends and family members of the most economically vulnerable people in society. Antiabortion activists call aid to women seeking abortions "abortion trafficking," which makes it sound like women are being forced to get an abortion, when in fact, the ordinances ensnare women who want to get an abortion and their friends, preventing them from leaving an antiabortion state. Even if such an ordinance is impossible to enforce, it legally endangers the people who would help someone trying to get an abortion, moving such reproductive care beyond the financial reach of many women, and makes people hesitant to help each other.
Such barriers are precisely the same as those for people trying to leave authoritarian countries. Someone who is prohibited from leaving a jurisdiction is not a citizen but a subject. Free and full citizens of a democracy have the right to travel, both inside the country and out of it. That right is guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution. But authoritarian countries often restrict travel for their subjects outside their borders out of concern that exposure to freer countries will weaken the authority of the government at home.
Crucially, authoritarian countries also urge people to turn on each other, reporting them to the state for punishment, often in exchange for a reward. Such a system breaks the ability of opponents to organize to resist the government because of the risk that their neighbors will sell them out.
While such circumstances affect most authoritarian governments, it is impossible to miss the parallels between these ordinances and the various laws that circumscribed the lives of Black Americans before the Civil War here in the United States. In that era, free Black Americans had to carry identification papers, known as "free papers," to prove they should be allowed to travel. White Americans had no such requirement.
Enslaved Americans could not travel at all, of course, unless they accompanied their enslavers; they were confined to the states in which they were enslaved. When some escaped north to freedom, that restriction was enforced with the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Part of the Compromise of 1850, which was a series of laws cobbled together in an attempt to reduce the tensions between the North and the South over human enslavement, the Fugitive Slave Act required federal officials—including those in free states—to return to the South anyone a white enslaver claimed was his property. Black Americans could not testify in their own defense, and anyone helping a "runaway" could be imprisoned for six months and fined $1,000, about three years' income. Those turning in Black refugees were paid a fee and the costs of their effort.
When citizens of free states spoke out against the Fugitive Slave Act for making them enforce laws they opposed, southern enslavers insisted they were "radicals" because they refused to enforce a law, and insisted that American democracy supported enslavement. Ten years later, extremists in the South put that argument into their political platform, saying that "the enactments of State Legislatures to defeat the faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Law are hostile in character, subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in their effect."
No longer willing to say they would accept free states in the West if voters there wanted freedom, enslavers demanded that Congress pass a new federal law to protect enslavement in the western territories. No longer defending states' rights except when it protected them from federal intervention into the institution of slavery, they demanded the right to use the power of the federal government to control the majority of Americans who opposed enslavement.
Although the Supreme Court justified last year's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision by saying abortion should be a state decision, antiabortion activists are echoing enslavers in their attempt to get federal legislation to enforce their will. More than half of all abortions in the U.S. are medication abortions, and a Trump-appointed antiabortion judge in Texas, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, is currently trying to get rid of such abortions by suspending the approval of mifepristone, given by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago. Republican presidential candidates former vice president Mike Pence and South Carolina senator Tim Scott both say they support a federal ban on abortion.
Today's attempted restriction of those who are supposed to be equal citizens from leaving extremist states raises a whole factory of red flags.
Last year, after the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision ending the recognition of the constitutional right to an abortion, I suggested to a group of people that it was only a question of time until we saw laws designed to make it impossible for women to travel across state lines. They told me there was no way such a thing could happen in the United States.
And yet, here we are.
Q. What is the difference between a law-abiding gun owner and a criminal?
A. The .2 of a second that it takes to pull a trigger.