Thursday, November 6, 2008

How about a New Deal for Youth?

C. Warren Moses, the CEO of the Children's Aid Society, based in New York City, has written a great open letter to President-elect Obama, urging increased public investment in infrastructure and social services:

As Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times last month, “It’s politically fashionable to rant against government spending and demand fiscal responsibility. But right now, increased government spending is just what the doctor ordered, and concerns about the budget deficit should be put on hold.”

FDR did just that in 1936, when he created the Works Progress Administration. Unemployment hovered around 25%, and people needed jobs. From 1936 to 1939, $7 billion was spent ($104 billion in today’s dollars) to hire laborers to build schools, hospitals, roads and lay sewer and water lines across the country. New York City’s LaGuardia Airport was built thanks to the WPA, as was the presidential retreat Camp David and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

It's essential that a similar investment be made in the fabric of our society. What if we had a plan that pledged to focus on the future of our children? What if we invested in training and hiring teachers? What if we made community college free for anyone, just like K-12 education? What if, instead of incarcerating children for their crimes and sending them to juvenile detention facilities where all they learn is how to become better criminals, we coached and mentored them into believing there's another way out of poverty?

I believe the America we would wind up with would, just as happened in the 1950s, be a better one that we had before. Times are tough, and they will be tougher on some than others. But we can find a way to build the economy while
investing in our future. Better educated children today will be the profit-earning leaders of tomorrow. Better preventive medical care now will reduce health care costs later. If we spend money on programs that make this happen, I believe it will be a fundamental factor in our future economic success.

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