When jobs mattered

I went to Cleveland, Tenn., this week to watch my granddaughter dance in a national competition, and on the way back I decided to do a little sightseeing.

US Route 74 travels along the Oconee River for awhile, the site of three dams built in the 1930s by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The first one (the westernmost) is the biggest, so I stopped to look and take a couple of pictures.

Standing by the map of the TVA dams was an older man who was telling everyone how his father helped to build this and several other dams in the region. He pointed some of the dams out, describing the work his father had done.

“Got to the point he knew as much about building dams as anyone,” he said. “He was gone a lot, but we had food and a place to live.”

Building these dams and other projects, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, were a way to put people back to work during the Great Depression.

The jobless rate now is approaching what it was then, if you count all the people who have been unemployed longer than 99 weeks and aren’t part of the statistics, plus the people who have had their hours cut back from 30 to 10 because they work part-time and have no bargaining rights. And let’s not forget the people who are working at menial jobs for $8 an hour because they can’t find anything in their field.

Last week, Congress and the President made matters worse by codifying the Republican desire to withhold money and services from the people who need them instead of increasing taxes on people who can well afford to pay.

There will be no TVA for this job crisis, no Works Progress Administration, Blue Ridge Parkway or schools construction. The current Congress believes it’s better to squeeze the poor and let our nation’s infrastructure crumble, our electrical grid disintegrate and our people starve.

If we don’t care that people are losing their homes at an alarming rate and that children are going to bed hungry, then we ought to care about national security. How can we as a nation compete in a global market when our roads and bridges are unsafe and our electrical grid antiquated? Our children’s education is lacking and it’s getting worse as budgets are cut at the local, state and national levels.

Once upon a time, we cared that people were out of work and that we needed a better power grid and roads. We spent money on those things and built a great nation that could compete and even excell on every level. We trained engineers and laborers and we built roads, dams and electrical lines. These jobs weren’t just busy-work, they were important, and much of the word done during the 1930s stands today as a testament to the power of government to make people’s lives better.

It’s awe-inspiring to look at the Oconee 1 Dam and know that families were housed and fed because of the honest work its construction provided.

Today, the richest Americans hoard their wealth and ignore the needs of working people as the nation crumbles around them.

Patriotic? I thimk not

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