Monday, January 12, 2015

A 91-year-old water pipe breaks in Cleveland, and all hell breaks loose. A new WPA could have prevented that but, with an economy rigged against us, a new WPA ain't gonna happen.

(WPA infrastructure work in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, 1941. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

A few days ago, a 91-year-old water main broke in the Little Italy section of Cleveland and all hell broke loose. As one resident said, "I was nervous at first, just trying to get my 80 year old mother out of the house who has dementia; my tenants were crying; my furnace was smoking; I didn't know if the house was going to go up. It's insurmountable damage. Five feet of water in my basement all the way across everything's destroyed" ("Little Italy street to remain closed due to water main break," WKYC3, January 10, 2015).

Amazingly, Cleveland "averages about five water main breaks a day but that almost doubles when the weather gets cold." This means that Cleveland has about 2,000 water main breaks every year. The American Society of Civil Engineers has informed us that there are about a quarter of a million water main breaks, all across the nation, every single year. 

So, why isn't there a new WPA to help modernize Ohio's water lines? After all, WPA workers installed 839 miles of new water lines in Ohio between 1935 and 1943. Many of those lines are obviously still in use, well past their intended lifespan. Also, Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, is well aware of the value of a WPA. In speaking about the insults that his political party continuously hurls at the less fortunate, Kasich said, "I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A." ("GOP Governor: 'There Seems To Be A War On The Poor' With Republicans In Washington," Business Insider, October 29, 2013).

Well, there are many reasons why there is not a new WPA, but I mentioned one of the main reasons in yesterday's blog post: Most rich people don't want one. When researchers conducted a survey, and put forth the proposition that "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment," only 8% of the wealthy agreed (while 53% of the general public agreed). Read that proposition very carefully. What this indicates is that most wealthy people would rather lower-income Americans remain unemployed than participate in a public works program. That is astounding (and utterly cruel), and goes a long way towards explaining why there is not a new WPA, and why our infrastructure continues to crumble, especially in view of the fact that the wealthy are manipulating our government with ever-increasing campaign contributions.

The rich are not stupid. They realize that a public works program might require them to pay more in taxes, and they realize that a new WPA--i.e., a dramatic reduction in unemployment--would deprive the businesses they invest in of a pool of desperate and financially traumatized Americans who are willing to work for peanuts. They know that their investment income goes up when a certain percentage of American workers suffer. As U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently said, "I see evidence everywhere of the pounding working people are taking...Many feel that the game is rigged against them, and they are right. The game is rigged against them."

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