[I know this post is a bit dated. It has been hiding in my "drafts" folder for close to a month.]
Robert Reich is a very intelligent man. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Discussing President Obama’s Stimulus Plan, Reich notes it will repair and upgrade “the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools.” OK. Sounds good.
However, given the present labor market:
[T]he stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most — women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed — will be shut out.
Many low-income and low-skilled workers — women as well as men — could be put directly to work providing homes and businesses with more efficient and renewable heating, lighting, cooling, and refrigeration systems; installing solar panels and efficient photovoltaic systems; rehabilitating and renovating old properties, and improving recycling systems.
I’d suggest that all contracts entered into with stimulus funds require contractors to provide at least 20 percent of jobs to the long-term unemployed and to people with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The first would be a boondoggle and the second suggestion is unworkable.
I can visualize unskilled workers doing some of the labor for these projects but how can Reich expect to exclude the skilled from more complicated tasks? Honestly, I have no idea of what the man was thinking. Infrastructure is not simply filling in potholes, it is building dams and bridges, projects that require a great deal of expertise and skill. Also notice that Reich does not say a certain percentage of federal money should go to independent contractors and other small businesses, he mandates that twenty percent of the workers must be of a specific demographic.
Many cities and states have programs that assist women and minorities in starting their own companies. These programs deserve to be supported and expanded. However, the federal government should not mandate the race and ethnicity of employees, whether in the private or public sector.
I used to find conservatives bawling about “left-wing social engineering” to be such a joke. But when liberals like Reich promote these sorts of policies, the conservatives may be on to something. Read all of Reich’s suggestions here.
[Construction workers, Empire State Building, NYC. Photo by Lewis W. Hine. CORRECTION: as a reader “Ryan” informs me in the comments below, the proper attribution is Charles C. Ebbets.]