Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 7 of 10): Insults

Above: In this video, a homeless man discusses his daily activities, explains the difficulty of finding work when you're homeless, and responds to the insults he receives.

Our words have power, and that power can lift someone up or tear them down. Insulting the less fortunate, and those who are different, has a long tradition in America (and probably just about every other nation). It starts heavily in our middle-schools, and then extends into the broadcast booths of talk radio hosts, onto the studio floors of media outlets like Fox News, and even into the halls of Congress. We call the homeless "bums," the unemployed "parasites," and we call various other low-income Americans "takers," "moochers," "welfare queens," "trailer park trash," and "lazy pigs."

The New Deal offered downtrodden Americans opportunities instead of insults. For example, unemployed Americans (which included the homeless and transients) could find job opportunities in the WPA. And what was the result of this policy choice?--the choice to offer opportunities instead of insults? Well, in 1943, a researcher at the Russell Sage Foundation noted: "Considered as a single unit, the total volume of WPA employment, during the first six years of its history, is sufficient to stagger even a wild imagination. By contrast, the estimated number of man-years required to build the pyramids of Egypt--which have long been symbolic of gigantic undertakings--seems small" (The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, Donald S. Howard, p. 531).

Regarding the physical accomplishments of WPA workers, journalist and free-lance writer Andrea Stone recently wrote for the Smithsonian, "...what those workers put up has never been matched" ("When America Invested in Infrastructure, These Beautiful Landmarks Were the Result," December 10, 2014).

So successful was the WPA that even limited government icon Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography. And speaking directly to the insults, Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, said "The things they have actually accomplished all over America should be an inspiration to every reasonable person and an everlasting answer to all the grievous insults that have been heaped on the heads of the unemployed" (from the book American-Made, by Nick Taylor, citing the New Orleans newspapers Times-Picayune and Item-Tribune).

And if you're curious about the quality of the WPA's work, you can visit the Living New Deal and explore a map with thousands of WPA and other New Deal projects that we still enjoy & utilize today (and the Living New Deal has only scratched the surface of what's still out there).

It may be true that some of the homeless are lazy some of the time, but it's certainly true that our society has been perpetually lazy in addressing the overall problem. Because, compared to slack-brained insults, good policy--like a WPA--takes careful thought, hard work, and persistence. A lot of people don't have the energy or work ethic for they just say "Hey bum, get a job!"

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