Every day in this nation, we pass through the shadows of monuments to the Full Employment policies of The New Deal, from the Davidson River School, the old post office, and the Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, to many in communities around the country. We may not think twice about the boys and men who built them or the conditions of that time, but these monuments should be a lesson on the full employment policies we could use today. These programs helped pull us out of the Great Depression, built the American middle class and provided roads, bridges, buildings, and trails. Now, years later, these things continue to help our local economies to this day.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) were created through President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) executive orders after Congress passed laws in 1933 and 1935 respectively. Within thirty-seven days of FDR’s inauguration, the CCC had its first enrollees. The average pay for a CCC worker, most who were between the ages of 18-27, was $30 a month with $25 of it sent back to their parents at home. Camps sprung up across the country, 2650 in all, and eventually, over 3 million people came through the program. Putting FDR’s ‘Tree Army’ to work, planting billions of trees, helping with flood control, fire prevention, and overall community safety. This had the effect of stimulating local economies while at the same time the crime rate for young men dropped by 55%. This demonstrates that given a choice people seem to prefer work over committing crime.
The WPA was started to generate jobs for the unemployed and build for a useful purpose; to make real and lasting contributions. These included buildings, roads, and bridges. This also included murals such as the one preserved upstairs at the Transylvania County Library. Overall, 8.4 million people were employed with an average monthly salary of $41.57, $745.38 in today’s dollars; lifting up the people, which also led to more demand for local business. 1.4 million projects were completed, leaving infrastructure that is still in use today, almost 85 years later. Government spending programs after World War II, including the GI Bill, and the interstate highway system, continued to promote full employment for the next 30 years which built the American middle class.
Then came austerity. After years of watching wages stagnate and our infrastructure crumble around us, America is once more in need of a government that provides for its people, by spending to promote full employment. A Federal Jobs Guarantee (FJG) is one part of the solution, providing employment to all people, and allowing them to move back into the private sector as demand increases. When the economy contracts (as the private sector lets people go) the FJG is ready and waiting to pick up the slack. This behavior is called “counter-cyclical” [see question 14 in this document].
These would be jobs that provide a living wage and benefit package that sets the “floor’, a minimum of wage, benefits, and treatment, that all employers would have to meet, if they wish to attract workers, going forward. The jobs would be federally funded but locally administered, putting people to work in areas that corporations don’t make a profit, but are necessary for a healthy society. Teaching assistants, home health care workers, deferred maintenance in the National Forest just to name of a few”[See question 8-a in this document]”
This puts money directly into people’s hands that they will spend right back into the local economy. As we saw with the CCC, providing jobs will cause crime rates to drop dramatically.
Implementing a Federal Jobs Guarantee, along with a Green New Deal, and increased spending on our infrastructure, we can start to rebuild a middle class that has been languishing for decades. It’s time once again, to use congressional appropriations, for spending on the public purpose. Build new monuments of a full employment economy, that can be passed down to future generations.
If this can be implemented in 37 days back in the 30s, surely we can do it now. When the public understands the operational reality of government spending, with Modern Monetary Theory, they will demand that government spending is used for the public purpose, not just to line the pockets of the few.