In response to:
Where Have the Jobs Gone? from the June 30, 1983 issue
To the Editors:
I would like to thank Professor Hacker and the Review for a thoughtful analysis of my book, Ending Unemployment [NYR, June 30]. If I may, I would welcome the opportunity of clarifying three crucial issues raised by Professor Hacker. First, a new incarnation of the WPA would not be limited to the hard core, marginal workers. Aside from the “new poor” laid off from basic industries, there is a sizable pool, annually replenished, of high school and college graduates eager to accept any reasonable job offer. In short, a permanent jobs program would enlist enough high quality workers to ensure that it could be productive and viable even in times of relative prosperity when the official unemployment rate would hover at 8 to 10 percent.
A second point: contrary to Professor Hacker I did indeed take into account the impact on job demand of a more productive, robotized economy. This is one of the main reasons why I see the long-term, post-recovery unemployment rate taking another upward ratchet to the 10 percent level.
Finally with respect to cost, I propose a $50 billion expenditure to eliminate unemployment. This can be considered expensive only if a) the jobs program produces little of value, in effect representing sheer make work rather than useful investment, and b) we do not factor into the equation the social, psychological, and structural costs of continued waste and inaction. I would hope that a properly run jobs program could come pretty close to a wash, much as I suspect the WPA, PWA, and CCC programs were in reality if not in conservative mythology.
One of my primary objectives as Chairman of the American Planning Association’s Task Force on Employment and Unemployment will be to try to alter the national perception of a comprehensive jobs program from large scale rathole to sound investment in the nation’s future. This undertaking is, as Professor Hacker suggests, far from a modest proposal. Perhaps I shouldn’t have borrowed from Dean Swift.
Melvin R. Levin
College Park, Maryland