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No Work, No Homes
By BOB HERBERT

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Talk about preaching to the choir. President Bush and his clueless team of economic advisers held a summit at the president's ranch in Crawford, Tex., yesterday. This is the ferociously irresponsible crowd that has turned its back on simple arithmetic and thinks the answer to every economic question is a gigantic tax cut for the rich.

Their voodoo fantasies were safe in Crawford. There was no one at the ranch to chastise them for bequeathing backbreaking budget deficits to generations yet unborn. And no one was there to confront them with evidence of the intense suffering that so many poor, working-class and middle-class families are experiencing right now because of job losses on Mr. Bush's watch.

After the meeting, Mr. Bush said, "This administration is optimistic about job creation."

It's too bad George Akerlof wasn't at the meeting. Mr. Akerlof, a 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, bluntly declared on Tuesday that "the Bush fiscal policy is the worst policy in the last 200 years." Speaking at a press conference arranged by the Economic Policy Institute, Mr. Akerlof, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said, "Within 10 years, we're going to pay a serious price for such irresponsibility."

Also participating in the institute's press conference was Robert Solow, an economist and professor emeritus at M.I.T. who is also a Nobel laureate. He assailed the Bush tax cuts as "redistributive in intent and redistributive in effect."

"There has been a dissipation of the huge budget surplus," he said, "and all we have to show for that is the city of Baghdad."

The president and his advisers could have learned something about the real world if, instead of hanging out at the ranch, they had visited a city like Los Angeles (or almost any other hard-hit American venue) and spent time talking to folks who have been thrown out of work and, in some cases, out of their homes in this treacherous Bush economy.

The job market in California worsened in July. More than a million people are out of work statewide, and there are few signs of the optimism that Mr. Bush is feeling.

Officials at homeless shelters in Los Angeles, as in other large American cities, are seeing big increases in the number of families seeking shelter because of extended periods of joblessness. The pattern is as depressing as it is familiar: the savings run out, the rent doesn't get paid, the eviction notice arrives.

Tanya Tull, president of Beyond Shelter in downtown L.A., said the percentage of families in her facility had climbed from about one-third to more than half because of the employment crisis. The breadwinners can't find jobs, she said, "so they're losing their housing."

Ralph Plumb, president of the Union Rescue Mission on L.A.'s skid row, said his agency, traditionally a haven for homeless men with drug and alcohol problems, is providing shelter for more and more "intact" families. Their problems are not the result of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental impairment. They simply have no money. Forty percent of the people at the mission are there "purely due to economic issues," he said.

Ms. Tull and Mr. Plumb both said an important factor in the rise of homeless families had been the "reform" of the welfare system. Destitution is the next stop for people who can't find jobs and can't get welfare.

One of the families at the Union Rescue Mission was featured this week in a front-page article in USA Today. William Kamstra, who earned $40,000 a year before losing his job, looks for work each day while his wife, Sue, and their three children spend the day at a library. They sleep at the mission.

"Homelessness in major cities is escalating," the article said, "as more laid-off workers already living paycheck to paycheck wind up on the streets or in shelters."

That story ran one day after a front-page Wall Street Journal article that spelled out how sweet just one of the Bush tax cuts has been for those in the upper brackets: "The federal tax cut, which slashed the tax rate on dividends and prompted many companies to increase their payouts, is proving to be a boon for some corporate executives who are reaping millions in after-tax gains."

Some people have reason to be optimistic. It's the best of times, or the worst of times. Depending on your perspective.  

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