Today is the 75th anniversary of the Works Progress Administration, a $10 billion federal program that put millions of Americans to work during the Great Depression. The WPA enabled workers and their families to survive the ravages of the Great Depression, while taking on public works projects that created a sound foundation for greater economic growth.
Across the country, local organizations are holding events marking the anniversary and calling on Congress to pass legislation introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., that would put one million people to work almost immediately. The jobs created by the bill would help build schools and keep our streets safe, among other essential work in communities across America. The Local Jobs for America Act, which quickly gathered nearly 120 co-sponsors, is the best chance this country has to begin filling the massive shortfall in jobs that our economy is experiencing. (The prestigious Economic Policy Institute estimates that the economy is now nearly 17 million jobs short.)
Faced with the enormous unemployment created by the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress acted decisively to get Americans back on their feet with real jobs, helping jump-start the economy. From LaGuardia Airport to Camp David to the Golden Gate Bridge, the legacy of WPA remains with us today. No matter where you reside, there are lasting testaments to the enduring legacy of infrastructure and rejuvenation created by the WPA.
We need the same type of bold investment to address the scale of our current crisis. The Local Jobs for America Act is an important first step. The Local Jobs for America Act will provide $100 billion over two years to create or save a million public and private sector jobs, extend critical support to local communities to maintain essential services, and fund private sector job training to help local businesses put people back to work. While the focus of the jobs created will be on education and other vital community services rather than infrastructure, the principle is the same: create meaningful jobs to meet public needs and provide long-term benefits for our communities and economy.
Congress and the Administration have failed to adequately address the needs in our communities and their efforts haven't been bold enough to make a dent in the enormous human disaster we face. Consider that almost 3.5 million people (a number higher than population of 21 entire states) have been unemployed for more than a year. That's a post-World War II record. Nor have efforts to date been targeted in a manner which can get the hardest hit communities back on their feet. It's important to note that the staggering 9.7% unemployment rate is even worse amongst some populations. Nearly 20 percent of African-American men are now jobless. The unemployment rate amongst Latinos is nearly 13 percent.
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Franklin D. Roosevelt's bold actions to meet the challenge of economic crisis were founded on an important understanding that our present generation of leaders ought to heed on this important anniversary. Roosevelt understood that the depression was the product of government failing to live up to its obligations. Much like the Great Depression, the Great Recession grew out of the Republican leadership's decisions to block government oversight of markets and eschew any role for government in addressing persistent economic problems in communities across America. The failed policies of George Bush were not merely tactical mistakes - they were the fundamental product of an ideology that places greed above social responsibility.
Roosevelt's answer to all those who pronounced that every person should be on their own and that government does not have a role in creating mutual responsibility was simple and straight forward: "In our seeking for economic and political progress, we all go up -- or else we all go down." That's what a direct job creation program means: it recognizes that we are all in this together, and creating jobs in distressed communities benefits the nation and our economy as a whole.
On the anniversary of one of the most successful programs ever created by our government, we would do well to remember the notions of mutual responsibility and community values that underpinned its overwhelming success.