Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Where There’s A Will, There’s A WPA: Stopping The Slow-Motion Jobs Disaster

Where There’s A Will, There’s A WPA: Stopping The Slow-Motion Jobs Disaster

We can create the political will to tackle the jobs crisis by advancing a progressive economic narrative.

The question we must ask today, on the 78th anniversary of the founding of the Works Progress Administration is: Why isn’t there the political will to take dramatic steps to address today’s jobs emergency?

Let’s start with the obvious. There was a far greater share of Americans unemployed in the Great Depression. In 1934, unemployment peaked at 24.9 percent — 1 out of 4 people officially out of work is much more of a crisis than 1 out of 10 (9.6 percent), the peak in the current recession in 2010. The impact is even greater than two and a half times, as such a huge drop in consumer spending means that marginal businesses able to survive 10 percent unemployment rates were swept away in the Depression. And during the Depression – much more than now – it was impossible not to know people whose lives had been devastated.

The other obvious difference is that we have cushioned the impact on the unemployed through the establishment of New Deal programs, notably unemployment insurance, which is providing income to half of the more than 12 million people who have been laid off, and Social Security, which has helped older workers unable to find a job. In a broader sense, the bailout of the financial sector in 2009 was a lesson learned from the New Deal, stopping the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression.

For most middle-class Americans, the Great Recession was not a sudden shock to a prosperous lifestyle. It was a deepening of a three-decades long trend of families seeing their incomes and lifestyles squeezed by stagnant wages and eroding benefits. Median household income increased in real terms by only 14 percent from 1972 to 2007.  During this period, the richest Americans captured most of the benefits of economic growth: Their share of national pre-tax income of the top 1 in 1,000 quadrupled from 3 percent to 12 percent. Much of the meager growth through 2007 was lost in the Great Recession; by 2011 median household income had dropped below 1996 levels.

Of course, the Great Recession did real harm to tens of millions of Americans, as Wall Street took away their retirement savings and banks took away their homes. The more than 20 million who are out of work or working less than they would like feel the pain every day. However, most people whose homes were foreclosed on are not on the streets, and the long-term unemployed are scraping by and aren’t in bread lines. Additionally, the retirement crisis — another slow-moving crisis — represents a long-term crippling of prospects rather than an immediate disaster.

The New York Times’ coverage of Friday’s weak jobs report highlights the slow-motion nature of today’s jobs crisis. The Times focused on a report by the National Employment Law Project, written by Roosevelt Institute Fellow Annette Bernhardt, that revealed most of the new jobs emerging from the Great Recession pay low wages. The Times article also highlighted the persistent growth in temporary jobs, and concluded with a quote from NELP Executive Director Christine Owens, underscoring the nature of today’s job crisis:

“This seems to be a long-term sleeper crisis too, as we think about long-term unemployed workers who are in midlife and older workers who are likely dipping into retirement savings in order to stay afloat. We’re setting ourselves up for somewhere, 10 years down the road, when a lot of retirees who didn’t expect to live in poverty are going to be in poverty.”

For those of us who understand that we do have a jobs emergency today — even if it is a slow-motion disaster — the question is, how do we create the political will to address the underlying crisis? The answer is to make jobs the central issue in the bigger story about the economy, so that the concerns of the unemployed are the same as the great majority of Americans who are employed.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • The Democrates are spending all their time pushing doomed to fail anti-gun laws, and the Republcans are spending all their time trying to cut Social Security so they can cut taxes for the rich. In the meantime, nothing gets done and American goes down the drain!!

  • SaneJane

    Unemployment, low wages and income inequality not only cause immediate hardships but put our entire society, perhaps the whole world, on a path back to the same lords and peons system people have struggled against for centuries.

  • adriancrutch

    The PLAN is to kill as many things as possible with one stone! Crappy low paying jobs don’t put alot of money back into the SS trust fund,thus choking it to death. The faster people realise that the rich are trying to create a vacumn in the middle,the faster we can form plans to thwart their plans. The Kochs bankroll thinktanks thence the ALEC program that has pushed the totalitarian rules that republican state legislatures are using today to kill off bargaining and the “Right to Work”!

  • Barbara Morgan

    What I find sickening about this whole thing that one group of politicans refuse to do anything to help get jobs created and people back to work because it might make the President look good. In December there was a Republican Representative that put a bill together that would help returning soldiers find jobs after they returned to civilian life. When the bill was put up for vote in the House all but a few of the Republicans voted against it and all the Democrats and a few Republicans voted for it, a course it didn’t pass. When asked while they had voted against a bill that was brought to floor by a fellow Republican and would help our returning military personnell, Bohemner and the others said because it might make the President look good. Republicans will not even back a bill that a fellow Republican has brought to voted on that would help our vets because it might make the President look good, that is a sorry group of politicans and should be thrown out of office head first since they don’t have any brains..

  • The reason our unemployment rate has not dropped more than it has, is because of the refusal to invest in infrastructure, R&D, and modernization to help those affected by the Great Recession and promote private sector investment needed to achieve sustainable growth. Needless to say, public sector investment would have also addressed critical projects that have been neglected for decades in favor of military adventurism and irresponsible tax breaks to the rich, that never produced the intended private sector investment and job creation their supporters claimed.
    Our unemployment and under employment woes are not caused because we are banktupt – we are not – or because we do not know how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from having a level of prosperity commensurate with our wealth and intellectual acumen, we continue to have problems because of ideological intransigence, intolerance and intense hatred towards anyone or anything perceived to be a product of socialism.
    Some among us would rather let millions of Americans suffer the consequences of a weak economy than admit that when the private sector is more interested in maximizing profits abroad the only recourse left is public sector investment. Obviously, the election of a black man as President turned the ideological intransigence that has been a mainstay of American politics for decades into a medieval crusade for those consumed by a level of intolerance and hatred reminiscent of what happened in the plre-Civil Rights era, during the Third Reich, the Maoist purges, the Soviet Union days and other great tragedies in the course of human history.