Creating new jobs

January 13, 2009 3:54:31 PM PST
The numbers are sobering. Five-hundred-twenty-four-thousand Americans lost their jobs last month. In all, more than 2-and-a-half million people were laid off in 2008 and the trend is likely repeat this year.

As President-elect Obama pushes for his own jobs program, he may be looking to the past for inspiration. "We need to act bold and we need to act now," he said last week.

Not since Franklin Roosevelt has a president painted such a dire picture of the nation's economy and to turn things around, President-elect Obama seems to be borrowing a page from FDR's play book by pumping money into public projects to create jobs.

One of those projects could be parks, like one on Roosevelt Island. This fall, workers will begin transforming the southern tip of the island into a park memorializing FDR, but federal money is needed to finish it.

William vanden Heuval, chairman of the FDR Institute says it's a fitting tribute to the president who got millions of Americans back to work during the Great Depression.

"It's a shovel-ready project. There will be well over 200 jobs," he said. "This really means saying to America that we remember what we did when we faced a crisis similar to what we faced now. We rebuilt our country."

FDR tried something that had never been done before in America - using the power of the federal government to create jobs.

Through his Works Projects Administration, FDR built roads and bridges. You can see them all over New York: Triborough Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, and even LaGuardia Airport.

Some are calling Obama's stimulus plan a modern day version of FDR's New Deal.

"At this particular moment, only government can provide the short term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe," Obama said.

Today's infrastructure jobs wouldn't just be for hard hats and blue collar workers. It would include expanding internet service and energy efficient projects.

"We'll also do more to retrofit America for the global economy," he said.

But just as FDR faced harsh criticisms for his ideas, so is Obama. Critics say government centered jobs don't work. They say the size and expense of this project has them questioning whether Obama can deliver on the three million jobs promised in 2 years.

"The federal government doesn't have a blank check. You have to pay for it one way or the other, and you can do much more harm than good," Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute said. "Eventually, they'll create three million jobs, but you can't do it until the business cycle turns up and there's no sign of it happening anytime soon."

So like FDR, Obama has no choice but to try something. Whether it will work, only time will tell.

"People want to work. They want to be employed. They want to build and I think the president-elect understands we are facing that crisis again," vanden Heuval said.