Friday, December 4, 2015

The recollections, and the wise & spirited words of Harry Hopkins - part 5: People need jobs, not therapy

(WPA administrator Harry Hopkins, left, shows work relief needs to two congressmen in charge of appropriations, 1938. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

During the Great Depression, many Americans traveled the countryside, jobless and penniless, looking for any work that they could find. They were, for all intents and purposes, homeless. Harry Hopkins, and other New Deal policymakers, set up work camps for any of them who wanted to participate in available federal  projects (for example, a beach erosion control project in North Carolina). At the camps, they could receive shelter, a job, and a modest paycheck. In 1936, Hopkins made the following observation:

"Originally, there had been a strong disposition to view the transient as a man requiring 'casework techniques' and 'therapeutic treatment.' But some transients who stubbornly resisted the casework approach to rehabilitation emerged, under the more normal conditions of a work project, from sullen discouragement and inertia into highly effective workmen. There could be little doubt that what most of them needed was not casework but a job." (Harry Hopkins, Spending to Save, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1936, pp. 133-134)

It seems that some Americans who lived during the Great Depression--no doubt those who were spared the loss of a job--considered transient workers to be somewhat crazy. This is interesting because we see the exact same mentality today from those on the political right. They consider all homeless and unemployed Americans as suspect, for example, calling them "wild animals" and "lazy pigs," and demanding that they be drug-tested before receiving any government assistance. They have a naive belief that there are good-paying jobs for every American, as long as one works hard enough. Market failure? Job outsourcing? Recessions caused by multi-billion dollar bank frauds? These things mean nothing to the political right; to them, it's always the individual's fault.

So, who do you believe? Harry Hopkins? Or those who ignore corporate greed, corruption, and crime, and then gleefully point their accusatory fingers at the person who just received a pink slip?      

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