Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

On Joblessness, Price Is Right

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

On Joblessness, Price Is Right

Article excerpt

The decline of the American factory, some serious observers believe, marked the birth of that jobless, hopeless and dispirited group we've come to call the "underclass."

And it may be that the best hope for redeeming this wasted (and frequently dangerous) cohort is to establish again the functional equivalent of the factory.

The problem is clear enough: The high-tech jobs the economists say are the wave of the future may turn out to be a very good thing for those with the wherewithal for college or technical school. But they are mostly beyond the reach of the underclass - and there's precious little evidence to support the hope that government job-training schemes will make much difference.

What will?

Perhaps a 1990s equivalent of the industrial plants that, while requiring only a sense of responsibility and a willingness to work hard, lifted at least two generations of Americans out of their poverty and turned them into productive and proud citizens.

That was the point Hugh B. Price made in his remarkable maiden speech as president of the National Urban League.

In case you were distracted by Price's warning that African-Americans avoid "the paranoid trap of thinking that racism accounts for all that plagues us," or by his gutsy rebuke of Louis Farrakhan for his anti-Semitism, here's what else he had to say in that Indianapolis speech:

"I call upon government to create a new labor-intensive public enterprise to perform services valued by taxpayers. We taxpayers all know there's plenty of infrastructure work to do. Schools are crumbling. Subway and bus stations are strewn with graffiti, and railroad rights-of-way are littered with trash. Public parks in cities and suburbs alike are poorly maintained."

The recommendation that these tasks be undertaken as public-service jobs comes with difficulty for Price, about as staunch a capitalist as you're likely to find in left-of-center America. But he is also a realist, and the reality he sees is that there are fewer and fewer jobs for low-skilled workers (especially inner-city men) and that, for the first time in memory, a resurgent economy has failed to create jobs.

Politicians and leading economists are "in deep denial," he said, whether they blame the economy's victims for not wanting to work or count on burgeoning technology to create millions of new jobs to replace the lost ones. …

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