For the Jobless, the Great Recession Continues

For the Jobless, the Great Recession Continues

By Ed Koch - November 4, 2009

According to the October 30th New York Times, "The nation's gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the quarter that ended in September, matching its average growth rate of the last 80 years."

I'm no economist, but that tells me we are no longer in a recession, even if some of that is attributable to the government's huge spending in that period.

The nation doesn't feel secure, however, and the reason is obvious. Our unemployment rate is currently at 9.8 percent. If you count the unemployed people who are no longer looking for jobs, the actual rate is much higher.

During my mayoralty, particularly during the earlier years, I would often say to my critics who wanted government to do more, that if a person had a job, that individual could handle most other problems without government help. I still believe that to be true.

That is why it is disappointing that the federal government has not, as it did in the 30s under FDR, come up with job programs like the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). I am not suggesting make-work programs. I am proposing much-needed programs to deal with the nation's crumbling infrastructure such as its bridges, roads and power grid. Again, I am not an expert, but I constantly read of the deteriorating quality of our drinking water, a problem that needs attention and funding. Also, why don't we have bullet trains like Japan and France capable of speeds of 200 miles an hour? I could go on and on but by now it is clear that much work needs to be done to strengthen our nation for the decades ahead. We've been told by economists that there is always a lag, sometimes lasting years, between economic recovery indicators like increases in the gross domestic product and the reduction in unemployment. But that doesn't have to be the case.

I was struck by the column of Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times of October 29, 2009, in which he points out that "for the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there." I would prefer that the billions of dollars that it would cost to fund the stationing of 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan - there are 68,000 there now - be used to put unemployed Americans to work here. We have spent to date $915 billion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That is more money than the projected aggregate costs of the Baucus Senate insurance legislation for 10 years. The Obama administration would, in my judgment, be advancing America's future by withdrawing from both Iraq and Afghanistan now and putting the money saved into infrastructure rebuilding programs here in the U.S. that would put millions of Americans back to work. Are there many Americans who support our remaining in Afghanistan for 14 more years, as some in the military say would be required to win, whatever winning means?

The futures of Iraq and Afghanistan will have to be decided by the peoples of those countries. President Benjamin Harrison in 1888 said it first: "We Americans have no commission from God to police the world." In the case of Iraq, Shiites and Sunnis will have to decide to stop killing one another. In the case of Afghanistan, the different ethnic tribes will have to decide if they wish to unite and create a nation.

The Times of November 2, 2009, reported, "In October, 453 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed, an increase from a monthly low this year of 379 in September but considerably below the high of 677 in April, according to the Interior Ministry."

We should get out now. The faster the better, serving two purposes: saving the lives of American soldiers, and freeing up financial resources so that we can put them to use to address our serious economic problems at home.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.
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