- - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Now that the presidential race is in full swing, it’s time for robust talking about issues and creating awareness about problems, which only seem to come to light when the American public is focused choosing a new national leader.

We’ve already heard some suggestions that are music to my ears, like radical overhaul of the Internal Revenue Service, repealing Common Core and restoring America’s position as a country that’s secure at home and respected abroad.

There’s one key issue, though, which both candidates and the press haven’t paid nearly enough attention to and, in my view, could be the determining issue for who sits in the White House in January of 2017: restoring manufacturing jobs.

During the past 20 years, it’s estimated that America has lost more than 6 million manufacturing jobs. Think about that. These were real jobs with real wages. These weren’t jobs flipping burgers or stacking shelves at a department store. These were jobs that allowed you to feed your kids, save for retirement and maybe go out to dinner occasionally.

What happened? We’re told pretty often these days that with advances in technology, the interdependence on global trade and the increasing move to a retail and service-sector economy that these jobs are lost and gone for good.

I don’t buy it.

We’ve seen a real economy, with well-paying jobs, replaced with an economy built on bubble after bubble, without real wage growth. This is unsustainable.

Manufacturing jobs do several essential things: They keep more money earned in a given community. If you work in a factory or a textile mill, you’re much more likely to spend your paycheck at Joe’s Diner (no relation) than the worker in China or Malaysia, who has replaced far too many hardworking Americans.

Because a manufacturing job is something you don’t necessarily need a degree for, I think you’d see a reduction in the rate of tuition growth and the student debt that comes with it.

It’s estimated that for every dollar spent in manufacturing, an additional $1.37 is added to the economy. Think about that. What are we doing?

By creating more manufacturing jobs, we’ll also create more taxpayers instead of people pushing unemployment to the max or shuffling between jobs with wages so low that they’re forced to rely on subsidies.

What can we do about it? The first thing the public needs to do is demand that every presidential candidate of every party puts forth a plan for the restoration of manufacturing jobs.

The sad fact is, aside from former Sen. Rick Santorum, I haven’t heard many candidates talk about the need for bringing back manufacturing.

The next thing the public needs to do might be a bit difficult: buy American. I’m thrilled at the initiatives from people such as John Ratzenberger (“Cliff” from “Cheers”) to market “Made in the USA” goods, but when I drive the streets of Jersey, I see car after car made abroad. When I perform around the country, I see audiences wearing clothing made in Vietnam and China. Why would we be supporting Communist countries paying children 10 cents an hour instead of supporting our own people? Consumers should be willing to spend an extra dollar in order to save our country.

The next thing we need to do is lower the corporate tax rate. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. When we chase our businesses overseas with an onerous tax code, is it any wonder that they leave?

Another key component has to involve raising the minimum wage so low-wage workers can actually afford some of the products made here. Hand in hand with an increase in the minimum wage, though, there should be tax breaks for small businesses, so labor costs don’t cripple the backbone of our economy.

This is a golden opportunity for the Republicans. Start creating jobs and you’ll start seeing union Democrats and urban voters voting Republican for the first time in a generation. If they don’t capitalize on this, the Democrats should. If neither party does, then the public should demand an independent alternative.

The bottom line is that we’re getting to a situation where nothing is made here. Let’s use the purchasing power of a strong dollar, coupled with low oil prices, to invest in manufacturing.

During World War II, all of our nation’s factories worked overtime to build war materials. If we’re getting to a point where there are no more factories, where would we build the weapons needed to protect our nation in the next war?

When candidates come to ask for your vote, ask them how they’ll restore manufacturing jobs.

Does it bother anyone else that we’re borrowing money from China in order to buy goods made in China? It has to stop.

I know I’m an unlikely spokesman for this. While, I’ve worked my share of “blue-collar” jobs, I’ve never worked in a factory, and the closest I’ve come to a steel mill is the steel-colored hairpiece, when I played Mr. Sinatra on “Saturday Night Live” but as a spokesman for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, I’ve seen the remnants of cities that have been destroyed by the exodus of manufacturers, and I’ve seen what it leaves behind: crime, poverty and struggle.

Let’s get back to basics. Made in USA products, fair trade and buying American. Not only will our economy recover, but so will our sense of patriotism.

Joe Piscopo is an actor, comedian and host of “The Joe Piscopo Show” on AM 970 The Answer in New York.

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