Letter: New WPA needed for at-risk youth
April 7, 2017

Dear Editor:

The United States Postal Service issued a set of new stamps on March 7 to commemorate the 1930s Works Progress Administration (WPA). The ten stamps showcase ten of the projects or purposes of the WPA. Their topics include providing wage work opportunities, encouraging work safety, promoting domestic tourism, and building tennis courts, zoos, airports, national parks, hiking trails, and docks.

As a professor of economics with an interest in the economics of crime, and seeing the standstill in addressing the violent crime spikes in some of Chicago neighborhoods as well in other cities, it appeared to me that a WPA type program should be one of the first violent crime reduction strategies — to both be a source for job slots for youth living in violent prone neighborhoods and to augment public infrastructure.

My version would restrict the program to youth between the ages of 16 and 21 living in high violent crime neighborhoods and who were not in school nor have a job. A key aspect of this would be the option of WPA job slots in places outside the neighborhood and urban area with a residential and tutoring component.

There are policy tools from our American past that can be profitably used again but adapted to today’s circumstances. If the Federal government is in paralysis, states should take up the slack. Diverting prison budgets to this WPA program would seem a good reallocation. Either you pay for this violence reduction now or you pay for it later.

A New Deal WPA for at-risk youth can and should be created.

Steve Balkin