Government Jobs Could Fix Unemployment Crisis, Some Suggest

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NEW YORK -- John Brennan turned 91 in May. Today he lives in relatively good health on Long Island, his mortgage paid off. When he was growing up in Manhattan during the Depression, though, times were tough.

"I was two weeks old when my father died, leaving my mother with five kids," he told HuffPost, his voice still marked by a craggy 1920s Hell's Kitchen accent. "Them days the women didn't have too much education, so my mother was out working most of the time, and we were free kids."

"She worked in all these different factories," he said. "Making candy, then a paint factory."

Under such desperate circumstances, Brennan himself had a hard time finding work during the Great Depression. So in 1937 he followed his older brother Peter into the Civilian Conservation Corps. He joined on his 17th birthday, the first day he was eligible.

The pay was only a dollar a day, but between 1933 and 1941, the program gave some 3 million young men employment. The CCC planted 3 billion trees, stemming the deforestation that caused the Dust Bowl, and built modest public works like park trails across the country.

As required by the program, Brennan sent $25 home a month, "which paid my mother's rent all the time." She was then able to use her extra money on other goods and services.

The experience of Brennan and those millions of other Americans who passed through the "alphabet soup" of New Deal agencies, from the WPA to the CWA to the PWA, may point to one possible solution for today's dragging economy: direct government employment on public works programs.

Joblessness increased from 3.3 percent in 1929 to 24.9 percent in 1933. For the millions out of work, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal jobs programs, like the CCC, offered hope in an otherwise bleak economic climate....

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