Why not government work projects for the unemployed?

It was done during the Great Depression, and in principle even conservatives shouldn’t have an objection to making sure that people who are willing to work have a job. So why no love for the concept of guaranteeing that everyone has at least a crappy job, with the government as the employer of last resort? Too much like Dicken’s dreaded “poorhouses”? In competition with private industry?

We did that, we passed the stimulus bill. Zero republicans in the house voted for it, and only 3 in the senate. Of those 3, one became a democrat because he knew he’d lose the 2010 primary.

The stimulus was actually too small. Some economics felt it should’ve been over a trillion and been devoted almost entirely to infrastructure, healthcare and state aid programs. Instead about 1/3 of it is tax cuts.

They do if it’s the dreaded government offering the job in question. And especially if a Democrat is in office. Regardless of how effective doing so would be, the Republicans will oppose it both because of their domination by the Government Is Evil people, and because under no circumstances do they want ANYTHING to go right under a Democrat.

Because it it Caw-Muu-nissum, and Sew-Shall-ism, & Libuuraal divvil-worship.

But mostly, it is because we, as a Nation, are stupid.

All the political poo flinging aside, we don’t do this because we have an unemployment system to help people in this situation. It was a direct result of the Great Depression. In an emergency it is tweaked on a state by state basis to compensate for areas that are harder hit. We also provide money for re-training people which is independent of a recession.

Uh, yeah, great idea… except unemployment doesn’t go on forever, and while in the Great Recession we’ve extended it a few time it keeps running out, leaving people without any income for stretches of time.

Re-training funding is VERY limited, and targeted at certain groups. If you don’t fall into one of those groups you’re screwed no matter how much you need a job.

And even where tweaking has occurred, when the state runs out of money so sorry, too bad - in some places that has resulted in people waiting weeks, even months for delayed benefits.

On top of that - not everyone is eligible for unemployment. Independent contractors, for example. The person I currently get most of my work from has been self-employed for 30 years and until the last two years was doing quite well - but when he couldn’t find work for four months too bad, he doesn’t get unemployment no matter how unemployed he is, or how able or willing to work.

As it happens, I had a temporary government job earlier this year, with the Census. I’d love to get some more government work again, either temporary or permanent. I’ve been looking for more work with little to no success. It is very, very frustrating.

Still, if we are a work-ethic country, then it’s nonsensical not to provide persons who want work with useful things to do.

Your post was stupid.

Essentially creating a bunch of make-work jobs is not a long term solution. First of all it is not creating any wealth and therefore not actually growing the economy. It’s just taking money from one hand (taxpayers) and shifting it to the other (unemployed).

It creates distortions in the marketplace. Whatever jobs the government is providing, I’m sure private industry would have a hard time competing with.

And what sort of jobs will the government provide? Make-work investment banking jobs for out of work Lehman Brothers analysts?

Finally, these aren’t permenant solutions. They only last so long as the government provides these make-work jobs. Or even worse, they will become permenant wasteful beurocracies that can never be dismantled.

Bottom line is that it’s a fallacy to believe that government can just magically snap it’s fingers and make economic problems go away.

First of all, if the choice is between people being homeless/starving/otherwise destitute and “temporary make work” there is some merit to giving people enough work to keep them from starving. Not enough to give them a luxurious life, but as a temporary measure during unusual times is it really that different from, say, extended unemployment benefits or food stamps?

Second, perhaps there is work that while not strictly necessary as a life or death matter would nonetheless provide some benefit. For example, some of the work done in parks during the Great Depression - trails, shelters, etc. - are still being utilized for recreation. While this is not as earth shaking as, say, a hydroelectric dam, it nonetheless provides some return for what was expended. Likewise, there are things such as post-storm debris removal, upkeep on foreclosed property, and the like which would be beneficial to the community as a whole (thus justifying the expenditure of government funds), is simple enough to require little or no retraining (thus making it practical to offer it to a wide variety of people), and will provide useful work to the unemployed without turning into life long careers. Those examples are off the top of my head, I can’t help but think there is more potential here than just that.

If the former bank executives balk at raking leaves or mowing lawns - tough shit for them. They can live off their investments or savings or whatever. Fact is, most people are fit enough to do some of these things, and if they truly need money most are willing to exchange work for cash.

Who in America is literally starving? There are food banks and other sources of food for the poor all over America. Are there people who are literally starving?

I read a thing just this week (I think it was in Time) where the writer pointed out that something like the WPA or the CCC just wouldn’t work anymore. What kind of project would you do? Have laid-off office workers and store clerks out building dams and roads with picks and shovels? Major construction projects like that have become a specialized skill.

Starving to death is exceedingly rare in the America, but inadequate food intake is not. There really are people who go to bed hungry some of the time, particularly towards the end of the month when money is running out. In order to get help from a food bank you have to be able to actually get to that, and that can be difficult if your transportation situation is iffy. Many food banks also require you to produce proof that you are really poor enough to need them. Even if you do get help from a food bank, it is usually far from a balanced diet and may be quite bad for someone with specific dietary needs such as diabetics.

Food stamp programs typically allow $25/week/person. While one can get adequate calories on such a budget it’s not necessarily easy to get a balanced diet from it, and requires considerable time investment in cooking from scratch - something someone working a full time minimum wage job may not have a lot of. If you’re living in a homeless shelter you may not have access to kitchen facilities, in which case eating on $25/week/person becomes… well, I’m pretty smart and I’m not sure I could do it. Such a diet would be extremely heavy on carbohydrates which, as I mentioned, would not be good for someone diabetic, and if you have a male teenage/young adult in your family you might not be able to provide sufficient food for his optimum growth under those circumstances.

WIC provides food to women, infants, and children (hence the acronym) but it’s rather heavy on dairy. Fine for the very young and adults of Northern European and/or Masai ancestry who retain the ability to digest milk after weaning but if you’re not in one of those groups (and more and more Americans aren’t) you’re screwed as your body can’t use milk. And it does nothing for hungry men.

There are free lunch, and even free breakfast, programs for school children, but only during the school year. Some of those kids do go without a meal when they aren’t attending schools - weekends, holidays, and summer breaks.

So, while we’ve kept people from outright starving to death that doesn’t mean there aren’t still problems with the diets of poor people, be it too many carbs/empty calories or simply not enough calories some days (even if not all days) or lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

So have them do something else. What I suggested doesn’t require specialized skills, or you have the “WPA” workers act in such as way as to assist the more specialized workers. For example, you have folks pick up litter prior to mowing road embankments. Have them scrub toilets in government buildings. Wash windows in government buildings. There are a bunch of things that still need to be done that take neither extensive education nor great physical strength.

Actually, I like the scrubbing toilet idea - not from the standpoint of doing it, of course, that would suck, but it’s so unglamorous people will feel an incentive to get a different (and presumably better) job and maybe, after having to clean up other peoples’ (literal) crap folks will practice better hygiene and aim the next time they themselves use a public toilet.

I hear what you’re saying, but the Government is already paying people to do those things.

And what you forget- it costs money to have people do things- on top of what we are paying them. Benefits, tools, recordkeeping, clerical, and especially training and supervision. It’s cheaper to just hand dudes the unemployment check.

Meanwhile, *they can’t go on job interviews while they are digging ditches.
Now, they still do have such programs,mostly for young people.City Year, the California Conservation Corps, and such.

I have worked with the Homeless a lot here, there are so many food options, no one has to go to bed hungry. Now, some make poor food choices (many Homeless buy a lot of junk food), but don’t they have the right to make those poor food choices?

As for WIC, you can get plenty of non-dairy. True, there’s a number of dairy items on the list, but there’s lots of other options. I have seen what they can get, and wiki is right on when they say "The food items provided by WIC includes: Eggs, cheese, milk, bread, peanut butter, tuna, juices, dry beans, fruits, vegetables, cereals, and infant formula." Even vegans can survive on bread, peanut butter, juices, dry beans, fruits, vegetables, & cereals. It’s pretty basic, but it’s doable.

Government work programs don’t go on forever. Hiring people to create and manage make-work jobs takes money out of the budget that could be used to directly stimulate and/or fix the economy. We still have many banks that are going to default. Put another way, the money businesses need to borrow for normal operations has dried up. This is why GM ground to a halt. They literally could not borrow money.

True, that doesn’t apply to a government work program. That would be in addition too.

You’re whining to the choir. I’ve been laid off for over a year. I have over 26 years in an industry that no longer exists in my state. Gone. We went from 5 major companies within a 75 mile radius to zero. in 3 years.

The level of financial distress is massive beyond any magic wand the government can wave. At 9 trillion dollars we are simply too far in debt to do everything you would like them to do. I would also like the training benefits to extend to me and as well as the bonus points assigned to ex military for government jobs (during times of high unemployment). It absolutely sucks.

This is completely wrong.

Look, this is introductory macroeconomics. There are, in fact, potentially good arguments against fiscal stimulus, but this is not one of them. It’s a simplistic, ignorant mistake. Stimulus does create wealth. It does grow the economy. There are no models that accept the efficacy of monetary policy and deny that of fiscal policy. Dollars sitting around gathering dust in bank vaults do not grow the economy. Borrowing those bucks and setting them to actual use makes both good theoretical and practical sense when interest rates are hovering as low as they are now. You can get the government work done without crowding out investment because there’s not enough demand for investment right now to be crowded out.

Here are better arguments. I still don’t believe them, but at least they have some logical foundation. A couple points:

First, the jobs don’t necessarily have to distort private markets, especially if those private markets don’t exist. An economy in recession has a lot of slack, a big output gap, and government spending can help fill that gap. A chunk of the stimulus was to supplement state budgets, so that they could continue to provide services that they were previously providing. And even if the jobs are worthless in the present, there’s still an argument for doing them. The job of building big ships, tanks, and guns for WWII didn’t contribute to long-term economic growth afterward. Building bombs and exploding them doesn’t contribute to infrastructure. We could’ve been commissioning the digging and refilling of holes and had the same effect. And yet the war spending finished the Depression.

And second, they’re not intended to be permanent jobs. You can make a political prediction here, and that’s your right, but I could make political predictions myself. And I say that if conservatives actually addressed these sorts of valid questions up front, instead of decided in advance to vote against it en masse, we could’ve settled worries like this and gotten to work thinking about our long term debt situation. But no, that’s not the current opposition party.

This is true. But it’s equally a fallacy to believe that the government can’t possibly improve things by directly creating jobs, when the bulk of historical evidence suggests the exact opposite conclusion.

And unlike what Magiver suggests, we have excellent reason to believe that we are not anywhere near our maximum amount of tolerable debt. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is about 50% right now, when we have in the past supported a ratio of more than 120%. We can afford this stimulus spending. We could’ve afforded even more stimulus spending. And if the Congressional Republicans were more concerned about reining in other preventable costs, like health care spending, instead of stoking fears of debt and “pulling the plug on grandma”, we could control future deficits even more quickly.

There are many Republicans out there who do genuinely care about the debt. But the Republican Congressional leadership does not, not in the slightest, or they wouldn’t have followed W down his drunken spending spree for six years with nary a complaint. I truly wish Congress had more genuine fiscal conservatives, instead of the hypocritical pieces of shit who are only now paying lip service to saving money now that a Demmie is in the White House, but that’s not the reality. The arguments against stimulus that they offered were completely without principle, just like everything else they do.

Then wash/scrub them twice as often.

Define “make work” please.

This is the second consecutive year my area has been hit by a tornado that cause significant damage and debris. Those debris need to be picked up off the roads and various buildings. That is not “make work”, it’s necessary work, but it doesn’t require advanced skills. What is wrong with offering such a job to the unemployed? Isn’t working for a few days better than not working at all?

I’m sure there are many things to be done that are small jobs that don’t require advanced skills that could be offered to the unemployed rather than having already employed people work overtime.

Another example is the Census work I did this spring. It was explicitly a temporary job, but I welcomed the work and the government got a necessary task done. There, was that so terrible? A win-win for everyone. Why not do more of that?

Yeah - I was laid off two years ago and while I’m not completely unemployed I am no longer eligible for any unemployment benefits whatsoever, which makes my situation quite precarious.

How does that eliminate government doing what it can do? Is your argument that because government can’t fix everything it must do nothing?