OKAY, CALL ME A SOCIALIST

There was a lot of debate about whether unemployment benefits should be extended before the bill was finally pushed through the Senate. It really is a hot issue. On one hand national debt is outrageously high but the economy is terrible and something has to be done to help the people, and families, who are suffering because of continued unemployment. Without extended unemployment benefits a lot of these families will end up on state public assistance rolls, so either way the taxpayers foot the bill, but what if there was another, more productive way for the unemployed?

A program similar to the Works Progress Administration, developed under FDR would be an effective way to help some of these people economically and perhaps emotionally, because the state of unemployment tends to make one feel like a failure. When you are unable to provide for your family it is depressing, when you have to rely on any kind of public assistance it becomes even more so. While unemployment benefits are a program paid for by deductions from a worker’s paycheck, the program has now been stretched so thin that for those who have been receiving benefits for the prolonged period the only difference between public assistance and unemployment is they would have to apply for public assistance. In many cases they would make less money financially, but may receive other benefits like health coverage and food stamps to help balance income lost.

If the current Administration were to develop programs similar to those under the Works Progress Administration, the federal government would still foot the bill, but we would see results and benefits unavailable through unemployment or public assistance programs.

The first, and perhaps most important benefit would be the creation of jobs in undeserved sectors, something our economy, and country would benefit from. While an unemployed MBA may not like the idea of working as say, a teacher in an inner-city school, it is honest work for a fair day’s pay that will provide for his family. There are schools that need to be replaced, or in some areas built for the first time, roads to be paved, bridges to be built and repaired, hospitals in need of workers, small, rural communities in need of doctors, communities everywhere in need of teachers.

Yes, the feds will have to foot the bill, but as previously noted they are already footing the bill through extended unemployment and higher than normal public assistance applications and benefits. Cities, states and the federal government are already footing the bill for road repairs, school and community development programs and construction of new projects in both areas, but each year the list of roads and communities requiring these services grows because there aren’t enough workers, or funds under existing programs to pay for the necessary development and reconstruction. By creating jobs, even while expanding the federal government’s role by allowing it to become a larger employer in the public sector, these needs can be better met.

By creating jobs people will begin to pay back into programs like unemployment. Social Security, an already stressed program will begin to receive funds from the wages of all the new workers, helping to revitalize it. Public assistance cases will decrease, because while many programs are tied into trying to find work, a person can’t work if there are no jobs to be found, so the vicious cycle of public dependence just continues.

Will there be problems? Absolutely. Establishing bi-partisan support for such a program would be difficult under the current political climate. A series of structured decreases in current unemployment benefit periods would have to be built into the bill, allowing the program to become established and create jobs, while building the initiative to fill them in the public sector.

Some jobs may be a distance from where workers currently live and in order to get there a worker may have to commute or relocate his or her family. It is possible that workers may even find it necessary to live apart from their families for a time in order to be where the work is located. Also, in this era where families frequently require two incomes just to get by, the new program would have to address the bias of the old Works Progress Administration which only allowed one worker per family. Funding would be a challenge. Providing benefits could become a challenge. Competing with unions in unionized areas would be a definite difficulty. It is almost guaranteed that unions will publicly decry the new programs, harass potential workers and challenge the new programs in courts across the nation.

For people on public assistance other challenges will present themselves as a worker on unemployment perhaps has more opportunity to pick and chose jobs given skills he or she may already possess and a higher general level of education. Job training and education would have to be provided to recipients of public assistance. These programs are currently available to a degree but the scope of the programs would have to be expanded. Reasonable employment would have to be clearly defined. It is not reasonable for a public assistance recipient with no vehicle to have to take a job thirty miles away unless some means of transportation is provided. Childcare services for all workers, regardless of whether they come from public assistance or unemployment programs, will need to be expanded, which incidentally opens up more jobs for childcare supervisors, teachers and assistants. Childcare vouchers would need to be provided until workers begin to make enough money to support themselves and their families and pay for childcare services.

The current ‘recession’ is the worst economic crisis this country has faced since the Great Depression. To make use of a cliché, this crisis has affected everyone from Wall Street to Main Street. Effective, realistic means of dealing with the current crisis have to be used and some lessons from our not so distant past can help us cope with the current crisis. FDR’s New Deal programs offer some insight. Already financial reform on the same scale as that undertaken during the Great Depression has been enacted, now it is time for the recovery to begin through the development of new jobs and the return of a flow of income to the country’s coffers. Call it liberal; call it socialist, I don’t really care. I call it wise.

**This is Tracy Riva‘s first article on The Pigeon Post. Tracy is a professional writer, editor and book reviewer. You can read her reviews on: TracyRiva’s Blog.

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