Monday, November 30, 2015

The recollections, and the wise & spirited words of Harry Hopkins - part 2: Work vs. the Dole

(In this 1938 photograph, Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, is urging Congress to increase the volume of federal work programs. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, federal work programs for the unemployed (e.g., the CCC, CWA, and WPA) cost more money than direct cash relief; but Harry Hopkins, in 1936, highlighted one of the major advantages of these work programs over the so-called "dole":

"What would America have to show today for the millions it has spent on relief if that relief had been in the form of a non-productive dole? Nothing except an army of disheartened, disillusioned, and resentful unemployed people nursing their sense of frustration and despair" (June Hopkins, Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, p. 193).

Indeed, America still has much to show--over three-quarters of a century later--from the New Deal's federal work programs, e.g., bridges, parks, athletic fields, public pools, tennis courts, water lines, artwork, schools, and airports (see the Living New Deal for a sampling of what we still use & enjoy today). 

In modern times, unfortunately, we have chosen the dole over work programs. We offer the jobless unemployment benefits for a certain period of time (along with insults to their work ethic, and constant threats to terminate those benefits) and then we throw them to the wolves (a.k.a. the "job creators"). Meanwhile, our infrastructure falls apart. We could offer them public jobs after their unemployment benefits expire, but the super-wealthy don't like that idea too much (they prefer to have a large pool of desperate, unemployed, and financially devastated workers who are willing to work for peanuts). And, since the super-wealthy are the ones calling the shots these days, thanks to their out-of-control & democracy-destroying political spending (lobbyists, campaign contributions, and Lord knows what else), well, there ya go. 

So, let's summarize the difference: New Deal = jobs for the unemployed and massive infrastructure work, but modern policy = insults for the unemployed and crumbling infrastructure. And millions of voters are perfectly fine with this. Isn't that amazing? 

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