Statistics tell part of the story. The present recession/depression, take your pick, has left 8.2 percent of the population unemployed. Put that way it may not sound like much but it means that over 12 million people in this country are looking for work. Only estimates of those who have given up the job hunt have been put on the table.
Another disaster, courtesy of Wall Street's driving the country into a ditch, is this: "Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year," according to a New York Times article (September 13, 2011). "The Census Bureau," the article goes on, "reported that the number of Americans living below the official poverty line -- 46.2 million people -- was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it."
Since the official poverty line is set at the low figure of $22,314 for a family of four, there are actually more people who are struggling to survive, trying to fend off homelessness, which is on the increase, to feed their families by going to food pantries in hopes they can scrape together enough cash to pay for other necessities.
The country needs a jobs program but not one like the proposed Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011 where money was to be given to state and city governments so they could entice businesses to move to their areas. Money needs to go directly to workers.
This is what President Franklin D. Roosevelt's agencies did in the thirties. His Works Progress Administration (WPA) over the course of an eight-year period from 1935 to 1943 employed eight and a half million people. It wasn't only the 8.5 million who were helped. Unlike tax cuts to the wealthy, who just sit on their money, the pay to these workers was spent locally, creating a ripple affect throughout their communities.
In addition, the government bailed out the banks instead of circulating the money by helping homeowners pay their mortgages.
Entry into WW II temporarily solved the unemployment situation. Men got paid while in the service and many women, who were not considered breadwinners under government programs, went to work in factories and shipyards to help the war effort.
The WPA was not the only government program that put people to work. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), initiated in 1933, housed 250,000 young men in rural camps where they engaged in reforestation and conservation tasks like clearing hiking trails and improving park facilities. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) hired four million people for public works jobs after its enactment in 1933. Other agencies like the National Youth Administration and the Public Works Administration provided employment for young people as well as older workers.