Monday, August 3, 2009

Bottom Up New Deal

"Here in one of Tennessee's hardest-hit areas, some workers were cutting down pine trees with chainsaws and clearing undergrowth on a recent morning...Others were taking applications for unemployment benefits at the very center where they themselves had applied not long ago. A few were making turnovers at the Armstrong Pie Company...

Rather than waiting for big projects to be planned and awarded to construction companies, or for tax cuts to trickle through the economy, state officials hit upon a New Deal model of trying to put people directly to work as quickly as possible."

Michael Cooper,"In Tennessee Corner, Stimulus Meets New Deal," New York Times, July 29, 2009.

Three hundred people are back to work in one Tennessee County, employed in jobs that are mostly private sector. The state is using TANF/Welfare dollars from ARRA, the economic stimulus, to create or subsidize the jobs. There's a lot of important stuff that the article doesn't tell us -- wage levels, benefits, and duration of jobs. And we don't know whether other jobs are being displaced by these publicly-subsidized jobs.

But, hey, here are some real jobs for people out of work. I suspect these 300 jobs in one Tennessee county are more than many states are creating statewide through their low-income weatherization programs, also to be expanded under ARRA. And, at the moment, these programs are stalled because of a Department of Labor prevailing wage study for the weatherization field -- scheduled for completion some time this month. These weatherizational tech or installer jobs have paid $12-$14 an hour in the past in many states.

I'm hoping that the good impulse to improve job quality doesn't severely undermine job creation and the ability of low-income people to get work.

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