Monday, February 2, 2009

WPA Redux

"With 12 or 13 million still unemployed...only the government had the resources to organize all their 'resourcesfulness, ingenuity and courage' into a program that would 'provide a broad base of purchasing power...increasing the economic stability of the system.'"

Harry Hopkins, quoted in: Nick Taylor American-Made: When FDR Put the Nation to Work

As I've visited a variety of cities in the past few weeks, a lot of people are wondering how the economic stimulus/recovery plan will create jobs for low income people. Sure there will be enhanced unemployment insurance, food stamps, and health care. And there hopefully will be some multiplier and respending that produces another round of jobs. No doubt some new to the construction industry will get on those shovel-ready infrastructure jobs.

Congress has dropped imposing any national hiring accountability targets or measures, so it will be up to local and state governments. A few expanded intiatives related to weatherization and health homes offer opportunities for hiring people who have no labor market experience or who have been out of a job for some time. This is a great idea but may turn out to be more complicated than it sounds.

And that takes us to the public jobs question. WPA-like public jobs programs, even a more targetted version, have not received much attention. These days we'd rather create jobs by hiring the private sector, offering tax credits, or praying for equitable multipler effects. Admittedly, public jobs programs, always messy, now seem an impossibility in light of our other boondoggles -- although a lot of this has been private sector fiascos.

But people want to work and there's work to be done. It might be a lot simpler to just create a green corp of public jobs to start greening our cities and communities.

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