20 December 2008

American Historians on the New Deal, Equality and Obama’s Economic Recovery Plan

Last month, I compiled several articles by scholars on the academic left responding to the initial contours of the Obama administration. Now, as we stand just a month before the dawn of the Age of Obama, things are not looking good. From the final list of Cabinet picks to the abominable choice of the family-values-fundamentalist Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration, progressives have numerous reasons to worry about the future administration's commitment to change.

The silver lining emphasized by some on the left is that Obama promises turn back the tide of rapacious neoliberalism and offers an economic recovery plan akin to FDR’s New Deal that will prioritize the well-being of average workers. It is worth remembering, however, that the New Deal was not without its problems, as many of its programs reproduced racial and gender inequities.

[Source: Chicago Defender 1934, via HNN]

With this in mind, hundreds of American historians recently sent an open letter to President-Elect Obama in support of his economic recovery program, while cautioning against New Deal-inspired jobs initiatives that are “overwhelmingly directed toward skilled male and mainly white workers”:
We are also concerned that if the stimulus package primarily emphasizes construction, it is likely to reinforce existing gender inequities. Women today make up 46 percent of the labor force. Simple fairness requires creating that proportion of job opportunities for them.

Today most policy-makers recognize that the male-breadwinner-for- every-household assumption is outdated. Moreover, experts agree that, throughout the globe, making jobs and income available to women greatly improves family well-being. Most low-income women, like men, are eager to work, but the jobs available to them too often provide no sick leave, no health insurance, no pensions, and, for mothers, pay less than the cost of child care.

A jobs-centered stimulus package to revitalize and “green” the economy needs to make caring work as important as construction work. We need to rebuild not only concrete and steel bridges but also human bridges, the social connections that create cohesive communities. We need a stimulus program that is maximally inclusive. History shows us that these concerns cannot be postponed until big business has returned to "normal." We look to the new administration not just for recovery but for a more humane direction—and in the awareness that what happens in the first 100 days and in response to immediate need sets the framework for the longer haul of reform.
Full text here and more on what you can do here.



Anonymous said...

Emphasizing construction will reinforce existing racial inequities too, unless the building trades unions have changed their ways in the last few months. FDR needed to placate the Southern Democrats to get his programs through Congress; "the Southern Democrats" are Republicans now, but the constituencies Obama seems to want to placate aren't so very different in makeup or point or view.

Buster said...

Yeah, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has construction as disproportionately white.

The question I have is this: how to sell folks on the idea of "human bridges" and "caring work." The infrastructure problem is visually striking, from Katrina (most notably) to the Minneapolis bridge collapse. And middle-class folks feel the financial crunch with shrinking 401(k)'s. How to push the administration in humane direction is a real quandary, especially as Obama has surrounded himself with so-called pragmatists who decidedly don't think about these things as much as they think about "getting things done."

Anyway, send your letters and call your representatives, folks. It's a beginning, at least.