WPA 2.0 Answer to Unemployment Crisis

Sidewalk Lippitt Park

Today Sen. Jack Reed is proposing a bill to continue unemployment insurance coverage. Republicans say the answer is more jobs. But how do we whip up a bunch of jobs so all those Americans lounging around inside houses and eating food can get their moral creds back with their betters representatives in Congress?

Don’t say ‘stimulus’. Yeah, it stopped the free-fall of the economy even with what remained of the program after Republican cuts. I’d hate to see these guys do CPR, “Don’t do those compressions so hard- that heart needs to learn to beat on its own!”

No, what we need is a program to get people working on essential needs that have been neglected too long and invest in the foundation of the economy–workers. We don’t need a ‘stimulus’ that’s so Obama. We need a WPA.

The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In much smaller but more famous projects the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.
Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. The WPA’s initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP), and in total it spent $13.4 billion.

The picture here is a seventy-year-old sidewalk laid down by WPA workers in the Great Depression. Still sound, like a lot of the infrastructure work done then.

The New York Times business section puts in simple terms why stimulus money used wisely on needed repairs is smart policy…

Millions of Americans remain out of work only because employers can already produce more than enough to meet depressed demand. The obvious remedy is to increase total spending. Although economic stimulus has become a controversial topic in the abstract, a few simple observations should persuade every sensible legislator — perhaps even a majority! — to support a specific type of higher spending: accelerated refurbishment of our crumbling infrastructure.

Some in Congress have consistently opposed the president’s infrastructure proposals, citing the huge national debt. But that’s an incoherent objection. If repairs to the Capitol dome or a tattered stretch of interstate highway are postponed, they will just become more costly. Many job seekers have the skills for this work. If we wait, we’ll have to bid them away from other tasks. The required materials are cheaper now than they will ever be. And interest rates are at record lows.

Of course, the debt is an important long-run problem, but deferring infrastructure repairs will only worsen it. Relative to current policy, then, such projects would address multiple pressing problems without distress.

Pumping up consumption while neglecting essentials just means that the car we bought on credit gets dinged in the pothole we didn’t fix.

The economy is gradually improving, but the high unemployment means more investment is needed in keeping America working. Not busy work–real work. How can we get Congress to come together?

Republicans should allow the unemployment insurance extension with a condition– job creation. Not some Obama stimulus, but a return to the kind of program that got America out of the Depression. Call it, the John Boehner WPA 2.0 to Keep America Working. Finish repairing those bridges, for the love of God. Hire teachers for job training classes. Hire artists and writers to show we have faith in the future.

Unless of course, high unemployment is profiting big political donors who want to keep us blaming the unemployed for the lack of jobs. In that case, the strategy is to obstruct work and progress. Let’s see.

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