In the wake of the highest unemployment rate in 25 years, the Roosevelt Institute asked historians, economists and other public thinkers to reflect on the lessons of the New Deal and explore new, big ideas for how to get America back to work. Anna Burger argues for taxing Wall Street to pay for a series of initiatives to combat unemployment.
Our jobs crisis didn't happen overnight. And it didn't happen by accident.
We're paying the price for an economic system that for too long valued wealth over work, ignored the warning signs of crisis, and failed to meet the new challenges of the 21st Century.
80 years ago, we found ourselves facing similar challenges. A reckless financial system crashed our economy-leaving millions without jobs, without homes, and without hope.
But we know what happened next.
President Roosevelt created the New Deal and he did it by empowering Frances Perkins to shake things up across government and business. She worked around the clock to not only put people back to work-but to build an entirely new economy.
She focused on innovative public works programs to put millions of people back to work quickly and efficiently.
And she ensured workers could share in the productivity of a growing new economy by protecting their freedom to join unions-laying the foundation for the greatest middle class the world has ever seen.
If we are going to come out of our current crisis stronger and better prepared for the challenges of a 21st Century economy, we need someone to take charge, to focus-24/7-on job creation until we see results.
President Obama should empower the 21st Century version of Francis Perkins - someone to speak for him and someone who has the authority across government to shake things up.
Creating jobs isn't rocket science. What we mostly need is the political will, courage and determination to make it happen.
Now it's time to get to work:
1. We need to extend the safety net, including increasing unemployment insurance, expanding work-sharing programs to provide unemployment benefits for reduced hours of work.
2. We need to use TARP funds to increase credit for small businesses.
3. Federal fiscal relief to states and local governments needs to be expanded to save an anticipated 900,000 jobs and the vital services in our communities.
4. We need to target the fastest-growing sectors of human services such as child care, in-home services for the elderly and disabled, and other services our communities need through a public jobs program. This will create jobs in the public and private sectors and ensure our communities are healthy, educated, and well cared for.
5. We need to leverage private investment with public dollars through a national Green Bank that will promote energy-efficiency and renewable energy as a major source of job creation, in both the short and the long term. The jobs we create today will lay the groundwork for the industries of tomorrow.
Expanding the home retrofitting programs begun under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act will create good jobs in construction and related industries. Including commercial and public buildings would increase the scope of the program, create high-skilled jobs, and protect the planet by reducing demand for energy. By acting now, America can lead the way on green technology.
6. We must invest in our aging and failing infrastructure by rebuilding our schools, roads and bridges-putting millions to work. An Infrastructure Bank can foster public/private partnerships in developing regional and large-scale projects critical for a 21st Century economy.
7. The passage of health care reform will add tens of millions of Americans to the healthcare rolls and create more than a million new and different jobs in healthcare and related industries. We need to ensure our present healthcare workforce is prepared and we need innovative recruitment and training programs to meet this new workforce demand.
8. We must pass the Employee Free Choice Act to once again protect workers' freedom to form unions and allow them to share in the prosperity of a new 21st Century economy.
9. We need expanded worker training programs on a national scale so that young people are prepared for new industries and workers can the learn skills necessary to compete for new jobs. It's time to coordinate across agency lines and provide flexible lifelong training for the new economy.
We can do this without breaking the bank or increasing the deficit over a ten-year period.
It's time for Wall Street and the financial industry to pay back their debt to our society. Wall Street must do its part by paying a speculators tax on their obscene profits and transactions. This tax can fund the entire program outlined above over ten years.
This isn't a hard ask. After the trillions in taxpayer investments to bail out Wall Street, the excessive profits of firms like Goldman Sachs, and the $150 billion in compensation and bonuses the top six banks plan to dole out this year, this is a small price for Wall Street to pay.
The American people demand action.
People like Ferol Wagner, an 81-year-old widow who lost her life savings when the market crashed. Like Keith Scribner, who lost his job when a bank liquidated the 60-year-old business for which he worked. And Maria Guerra, whose brother lost his job, fell behind on his mortgage payments, and had to sign the home Maria helped him purchase over to the bank.
We were together in Chicago recently with thousands of other Americans to demand an end to an economy that puts Wall Street and corporate CEOs ahead of the rest of us. We were there to demand that the leaders we elected work 24/7 to create the relief our families need.
We can solve this crisis. We can right the wrongs of our economy.
But only with real focus and leadership that ensures everyone does their part.
And only if we get to work today.
Roosevelt Institute Braintruster Anna Burger is the chair of Change to Win, America's newest labor federation, and a top-ranking officer at the Service Employees International Union, where she oversees national political operations.