Thursday, January 9, 2014

No unemployment benefits, no WPA, just free-market fantasies

(Unemployed older Americans were hired into the WPA. These men are working on military files in Baltimore, Maryland, in May of 1941. If they were alive and unemployed today, they would receive no such job opportunities. They would, instead, be left to the mercy of employers who would likely discriminate against them because of their age and also because of their unemployed status. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)  

Many right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers pray for the day when unemployment benefits are a thing of the past. Not only do they want federally-funded extended benefits eliminated, but they also want the traditional 26-week state benefit programs dismantled (see, e.g., "Florida and other states cut unemployment benefits").

We also know that many right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers would never buy into the idea of a new WPA, even though their icon--Ronald Reagan--had positive things to say about the WPA in his autobiography. To modern Reaganites, who make Reagan look quite liberal, a WPA would be "creeping socialism!"

(In the National Youth Administration--which started out as a subdivision of the WPA--young men and women found work and training. This young man is gaining woodworking experience in a National Youth Administration machine shop in Wisconsin. If he were alive and unemployed today, there would be no National Youth Administration to offer employment and training to him. But perhaps he could work in a warehouse while living in the woods, like some American workers are forced to do today due to the pathetic wages they are paid. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)  

So, what is the solution to joblessness, according to the right-wing folks? Well, the proposals I've heard or read usually go along the lines of: "Get a job at McDonalds or Walmart, work really hard, management will notice this hard work, and then you'll experience a string of promotions & raises that will ultimately allow you to realize the American Dream." This is the Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches myth. The free-market fantasy. The idea that if people just work harder, and if we just give more tax breaks to the wealthy, everything will be much better.  

The extreme right would have us dismiss the fact that the unemployed are discriminated against, would have us dismiss the fact that there are not even enough low-wage jobs for everyone, dismiss the fact that workers actually are working harder but that their hard work is not resulting in promotions & raises, and dismiss the fact that simple math & logic quashes the notion that all, or even most, hard workers will one day become well-paid managers (there will always be far more worker bees than managers).

(Women found employment in a multitude of areas in the WPA. Here, formerly unemployed women prepare to take books to rural families in Kentucky, in 1938. If these "pack horse librarians," as they were called, were alive and unemployed today, they would receive no such job offerings. However, they would have the opportunity to be called "leeches" by a multitude of Internet comment-makers, and be discriminated against by employers. Image courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)         

So, where does all this leave the long-term unemployed? Well, their unemployment benefits are constantly being threatened or eliminated, our government refuses to create (or even contemplate) a new WPA, they're discriminated against by employers, and they face a mean-spirited right-wing army that's hung up on free-market fantasies, while gleefully declaring that the unemployed are "lazy," "leeches," "takers," "moochers," and "parasites," who don't deserve help (thereby, no doubt, exacerbating the discrimination that the unemployed face in their job search. After all, who wants to hire a so-called "leech").

Is it any wonder that the unemployed are having such a hard time getting back on their feet, in this atmosphere of government apathy, employment discrimination, and right-wing vitriol? What we need is a new WPA, but unfortunately all we're going to get is a free-market fantasy.

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