Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Op-ed: Useful work is better than a dole

In his famous 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, FDR said: "Of course we will provide useful work for the needy unemployed, because we prefer useful work to the pauperism of a dole."

This sentiment is echoed by Stephen Seufert in a recent op-ed on, where he makes the very interesting and compelling argument that a new WPA would more adequately fulfill the general welfare clause of the Constitution than continued extensions of unemployment benefits. (See Mr. Seufert's op-ed here)

I agree with Mr. Seufert's assessment. I think unemployment benefits are good for a particular period of time (6 months? 9 months?) because it allows for an extensive amount of time for the laid-off worker to find a job appropriate to his/her skills & education. But, at some point, extended unemployment benefits cripple the jobless and--among the general population--raise doubts about the efficacy of such continued benefits. The jobless remain unemployed and hopeless (and it is likely that they are discriminated against because of their unemployed status, see an interesting study here), and America receives no work product for its investment.

And let's be clear. This is not about putting the jobless to work like indentured servants, but about providing meaningful work opportunities to those who want to work but are having serious problems finding employment after a significant, good faith, and verifiable job search. It's about compassion, it's about hope, and it's about creating useful public works (infrastructure, art, research, environmental & historic preservation, making clothes for the poor, etc.).  


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