The Mass Media (UMass-Boston)
February 27, 1979
Social services, education dollars axed by Carter
By Michael Letwin
“I’ve not robbed the poor or the deprived or the social programs in order to provide for defense.” –Jimmy Carter, 1/26/79 (The New York Times 1/27/79)
You had to read the fine print on Carter’s proposed federal budget to find out that the statement above is a lie and that behind the rhetoric of “austerity” and “sacrifice” comes a brutal attack on our already inadequate social services. But since a lot of us don‘t read the fine print, many students won’t know that the budget cuts are going to directly affect us as working class students at UMass/Boston.
They will. Carter is proposing a cut of $600 million in educational spending which includes a $144 million reduction in BEOG money and a $90 million cut in NDSL Loans (all budget figures from The New York Times, 1/23/79).
Anyone who’s applied for financial aid at UMB (and most of us have) will know that it’s already impossible to get adequate aid. Further cuts in funding for public higher education will mean just that much more hardship for working students. As a result, many of us will have to leave school altogether as inflation climbs and real wages and federal aid declines.
But educational cuts are only one way in which we are going to feel Carter’s attack on workers and the poor, In all, somewhere between $5 billion and $15 billion will be cut from the social services section of the federal budget. To understand what this really means, the budget cuts must be viewed in their specifics.
The cuts include a reduction of 233,000 CETA jobs and 250,000 summer jobs for teenagers. $600 million will be sliced from social security benefits, funds that are now provided to the disabled, retired, widows and orphans. A ceiling on welfare spending regardless of need, will be implemented. Housing for the poor will be drastically cut as plans for 23,500 low income housing units are eliminated, $45 million less spent in rehabilitation of existing housing and 10% less allotted for rent assistance to the poor.
But there’s more. Carter’s avowed purpose in cutting social services is to reduce inflation. This, says Carter, is to be accomplished largely through “slowing down” the economy. Spoken plainly, this will mean even higher unemployment levels. The official unemployment figure is already 5.8%. The actual figure is somewhere around twice that.
Taken separately, black adult unemployment is always at least twice the overall average, and black youth unemployment is between 40%-60%. Let`s remember these figures the next time we hear someone ask why “all those poor people don’t just get a job.”
But it would be unfair to completely fail to appreciate the new budget, for not everyone will suffer. The “Defense” Dept., for example, will receive an increase of $11 billion to a record of $125.8 billion. This amounts to an increase of 3% after inflation. But don‘t we need a big military budget?
To have the answer, we have to look at what the military actually does. They’re the folks that made possible the war in Vietnam, an attempt to keep a corrupt and bloody, but pro-American business government in power, the cost of which was the murder of about two million Indochinese and 50,000 Americans.
You didn’t like that war? How about the American invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 to protect American business, or the aid given to the military coup in Chile in 1973 for the same reasons. Or, again for the benefit of American capitalism, the US involvement in Iran to back up that pillar of democracy, the Shah?
If you missed the chance to participate in any of that, don’t give up completely. Many of us maybe drafted in the future to put down wars of liberation in the Middle East or Africa, or even here at home if the ghettos explode like they did in the ’60. Be sure to ask the military recruiters about it next time they bring their little table of lies onto the campus.
Needless to say, Carter’s budget isn’t demanding that business join in the “sacrifice.” While wage controls are being pushed and government welfare payments to corporations remain intact, business’ share of the tax burden has fallen from 40% in 1945 to 22% in 1979.
So Jimmy Carter, who ran on a program of cutting business lunches and military spending has instead cut children’s lunches and upped the arms budget.
Carter would have us believe that inflation was our fault. But the fact is that far from being our fault, inflation is a result, along with unemployment, of the breakdown of the system itself. Carter’s proposed budget is a way of trying to get the economy back on its feet by slashing our vital services, and only demonstrates (if further proof is necessary) that capitalism’s priorities don’t even remotely include the provision of the basic needs of the American working class. Instead, it attacks those needs.
For all of capitalism’s insistence that it is the best system conceivable, the budget lays bare what the system is all about maintenance of corporate profit and the military machine at working class expense.
But Carter is right about one thing. He has no choice within the alternatives offered by the system. Capitalism can’t do any better. And that’s why it has to go. But in the meantime let’s not take the rap for a hopelessly inadequate system.