Monday, January 6, 2014

4 million Americans "scarred" by long-term unemployment

(The WPA attempted to help the long-term unemployed by changing public opinion, from unemployed-as-lazy-and-worthless to unemployed-as-untapped-potential. This WPA poster advertises an exhibition "of the skills of the unemployed." Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)  

As U.S. Senator Rand Paul leads the Republican and Tea Party effort to cut off extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, employers stand waiting to discriminate against these very same unemployed Americans, a phenomenon known as "scarring." Thus, we have a situation where the long-term unemployed (about 4 million officially, but probably higher) cannot find a job, and are also being cut off from government assistance. In other words, they're being kicked when they're down. And truth be told, a lot of the long-term unemployed haven't received government assistance in a long time (if they received any assistance at all); they were socially marginalized long ago.

During the New Deal, policy-makers created work opportunities for unemployed Americans. Combined, the Civil Works Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration, employed well over 10 million Americans. And the Public Works Administration funded an enormous amount of building projects across the country, thereby encouraging employers to hire more people. We're still utilizing many of the roads, bridges, buildings, airports, etc. that all these agencies created.  

We've come along way from the New Deal--from offering jobs to the unemployed, to scarring them. For some reason (apathy? plutocracy? cut-throat capitalism? hatred of the less fortunate? all of the above?) we've decided that social exclusion is better than, for example, improving our infrastructure via public employment programs. Isn't that amazing?

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

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