Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Deal Recreation: A Boon, Not A Boondoggle

In a January 11, 2013 article, Say, What?! Americans Spend More on the Great Outdoors Than on Gasoline: United States’ overlooked economic powerhouse is outdoor recreation, by Allison Fairbrother, it is reported that: "Americans devote more money to enjoying the outdoors than buying gasoline, purchasing pharmaceutical drugs, or owning cars. More than 44 percent of us make outdoor recreation a priority, adding up to an annual economic impact of $646 billion...Outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million jobs and a combined $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue."

This reminds me of a story I saw in the Maryland newspaper Cumberland Times-News, highlighting how parks & recreation have boosted the economy of western Maryland, a section of the state that received extensive work from the CCC during the Great Depression (see article here).

A lot of the recreational activities that we enjoy today, which provide the reported economic benefit, are a direct result of New Deal work programs. For example, the CCC helped create or develop hundreds of parks across the country, and the WPA created or improved a multitude of stadiums, fairgrounds, athletic fields, playgrounds, swimming pools, handball courts, tennis courts, ski trails, ski jumps, ice skating areas, and more.  

However, despite America's five-year-long unemployment problem, and despite the clear evidence that public work programs on recreational projects have large & lasting economic benefit, Ms. Fairbrother points out that nonsensical austerity measures seem to be in the forefront of current political thinking: "Unfortunately, Congress doesn’t seem to be taking the hint. Devastating budget cuts loom for the nation’s 398 national parks, monuments, and historic sites, as well as federal conservation activities and fishery management."

Once again, we could be connecting the dots. We could offer work opportunities for those disenfranchised from the labor market, to create & improve parks & outdoor recreational facilities, which in turn would generate current & future economic benefits.

We could, but of course we won't. And so we need to ask ourselves: "Considering the historic & economic evidence, why not?"

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

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