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The WPA was definitely better than welfare today
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The Eastern Sierra - as well as Yosemite National Park - is laced with a fairly elaborate trail system, campgrounds and other facilities.
Some of those were put in place by the Civilian Conservation Corps that was part of the New Deal's Work Progress Administration. Many National Park Service locales benefitted from the WPA during the Depression. In California alone there were 1,733 projects ranging from putting in curbs and gutters and extending an industrial sewer lines as well as replacing and strengthening the original cables up iconic Half Dome in Yosemite National Park to building the access road to the Whitney Portal outside of Bishop.
Between Uncle Sam and the 50 states America today spends $1 trillion on welfare.
We don't have much to show for it nor does it convey a sense of worth to the recipients. It also doesn't develop work skills.
Granted, not all welfare recipients can work. And, yes, there are work training programs and support for endeavors such as foster child placement. But at the end of the day, a good chunk of the $688 billion taxpayers spend annually on 126 federal-level welfare programs plus almost another $400 billion on state level endeavors doesn't do much to move America forward.
Making sure people don't starve and have shelter is important, but so is making them productive citizens and advancing the country.
It is why a WPA-style transformation of welfare programs where appropriate makes sense.
Obviously, you are not going to have out-of-work single moms in Oakland building roads. But there are a host of things they can do working with non-profits to government agencies to improve a community's quality of life. One function could be running daycare centers designed specifically for the children of people who would be enlisted to work under such a program in exchange for a check.
Some would argue much of the work wouldn't secure the participants in the way of well-paying head-of-household jobs in the private sector and therefore aren't effective. First of all, it would eliminate essentially getting something for nothing. Plus workers in WPA-style programs would still have the option to better themselves in work training programs. Just like everyone else that wants to get ahead, they can do it around their WPA job.
Physical labor possibilities are endless without sacrificing permanent jobs.
Look around the Valley and you can start making a long list of possible tasks for a WPA-style supplemental workforce:
• Moving weeds along city right-of-ways.
• Working as crossing guards on busy streets around schools.
• Assistant workers to help free paid staff for other more pressing duties such as at the animal shelter or to augment staff for landscape maintenance and park work.
• Building affordable housing.
If the last one sounds ludicrous, guess again. It would be a take-off on the United States Department of Agriculture's Mutual Self-Help Housing Loan Program that has helped more than 50,000 rural families become homeowners as well as Habitat for Humanity.
The program requires sweat equity of participating families of 30 hours a week during a nine-month construction period.
Why not go a step further and have WPA-style workers under the guidance of a hired general contractor build low-income housing for the community? Not only would they be doing work for their money but they'd also be learning a trade.
Give the amount of regulations and our tendency today to say "why" instead of "why not" such a program seems too simplistic to work.
But that's exactly the point - it's simplistic.
The reason the WPA worked and avoided a lot of people being put on general relief was because it was simplistic. It not only built things for the American public to enjoy for generations but it also gave those participating dignity and they earned the money they received.
Today we spend more time finding reasons why we can't do things than making them happen.
Plus, no matter how you look at it, at the end of a day someone who is able bodied and getting welfare needs to earn their money and build the aptitude and skills needed to secure a private sector job.
But until they do, they certainly can work to improve the community in exchange for that community putting money in their pockets that they need for basic necessities.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.