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September 15th, 2010
Profiles from the Recession
[BLOG] Hard Times Then, Hard Times Now

Tom McNamara, Blueprint America

Much has been made of the similarities between today’s economic downturn and The Great Depression. Pundits have, for example, labeled the current era “The Great Recession.” And the facts seem to bear that out. Fifty-five percent of Americans in the workforce have lost their jobs, suffered a pay cut or seen their hours reduced since 2007. By comparison, unemployment alone reached 25 percent in the 1930s. There is, no doubt, a relationship between the two. TIME magazine illustrated that relationship when, just after the 2008 election, the publication put Barack Obama on its cover in a classic Franklin Delano Roosevelt pose, right down to the cigarette holder. The title crystallized the message: “The New New Deal: What Barack Obama can learn from FDR, and what Democrats need to do.”

There are other similarities, too. The hard-luck stories from then and now are more or less the same. And the pictures tell the story.

Then: The Great Depression

Roy Swinford, a worker for the Works Progress Administration in Chicago, laid down 45,000 bricks a day. He kept a crew of 20 men busy at top speed to supply him with bricks. (Source: New Deal Network)

Now: The Great Recession

Kevin Light, a project superintendent with the Washington State Department of Transportation, supervised the City of Washougal’s SR-14 Pedestrian Tunnel stimulus project. In an interview with his employer, Light said, “this project enabled us to continue working and bring employees back to work.” Light’s grandchildren, as he put it, will one day be able to look at the tunnel and say that he built it. (Source: Washington State Department of Transportation)

Then: The Great Depression

Bridge builders working on a Public Works Administration project in Chicago. (Source: New Deal Network)

Now: The Great Recession

Bridge builders working on a stimulus project in Seattle. (Source: Washington State Department of Transportation)

Now: The New New Deal

Of course, Congress and the Obama administration implemented a type of modern New Deal in the form of the 2009 Recovery Act, a $787 billion government stimulus program. While much of the money was in tax breaks, some $150 billion went to infrastructure programs like those in Washington State (see the state department of transportation’s Flickr page for more “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”-like documentation of their state’s stimulus dollars at work). Those projects were, as the president has said, intended to put Americans back to work.

As the midterm elections approach, many will ask: Did the stimulus work? Considering that the jury is still out even on the New Deal, it’s hard to tell.

Then again, an announcement just weeks ago from President Obama may be telling. Obama said that another $50 billion in stimulus-like government spending on infrastructure projects will likely be needed as this “Great Recession” continues. Just don’t call it “Stimulus Part Two” — the president has been careful to avoid using that rhetoric again.

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