Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Urgently Needed: A Public Jobs Program

By Reginald Johnson

    BRIDGEPORT --- Recent murders in this city are a reminder that Bridgeport can still be a violent place, and it’s going to take a lot more than beefed-up law enforcement and a few jobs provided by new retail development to change that fact.

  People were shocked when a popular storeowner in the city’s Hollow section was shot for no apparent reason after he turned over cash to two gunmen who entered his store in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, April 11.

  Jose Salgado, 57, who ran the store “Sapiao’s Grocery” on Lexington Avenue with his wife Maria for 24 years, was shot after complying with the demands of the robbers. The assailants ran out of the store, jumped into a waiting car and fled.

   Days later, police caught up with one man in New Haven and charged him with felony murder. The other suspect was recently caught and is expected to be charged with felony murder as well.

  The shooting at Sapiao’s follows by weeks another killing of a store worker in the city’s North End. Hakeem Joseph, 32, a clerk at the T Market on Reservoir Avenue, was shot around 8 a.m. by a gunman dressed in camouflage and wearing a hood. Police have not yet apprehended the man.

   The murders jolted local officials who had been feeling good about the city’s progress in slowing violent crime. It is true that the homicide rate for Bridgeport in recent years is sharply lower than what it was 20 and 25 years ago, when drug gangs often turned the city into a daily shooting gallery.

  In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the city frequently experienced 4-5 homicides a month; the fatal shooting of Jose Salgado represented the city’s fifth homicide this year.

  Nonetheless, the recent killings demonstrate that Bridgeport is still a dangerous place sometimes, and is likely to remain that way, even if the overall rate of crime is reduced. That’s because Bridgeport --- though having some success in redeveloping --- is still largely a poor city, and poverty often breeds crime.

New Bass Pro Shop being built on Bridgeport's Harbor. It's going to take a lot more than a few hundred jobs in new retail development to reverse poverty in Bridgeport.

   When people are poor, and there are no jobs to help pull them up, they get desperate. They’re frustrated and often resentful.  In some cases, they’re driven to rob people to get the money they need for themselves and their family.

   In other cases, out of desperation, poor people turn to illegal methods to raise money, such as buying and selling drugs. In the process, they may use drugs themselves, only to get addicted.  The people who buy the drugs to get a lift, also get addicted. Addictions can lead to violent behavior, with the addicted individuals attacking other innocent people to get the money for the fix they so desperately need.

  Drug sellers also are involved in shooting other people out of anger that their “turf” was invaded, or because of some other dispute.

   We don’t know yet what the motives were for the hold-up at Sapiao’s store, but I won’t be at all surprised if, after the facts come out, the robbers were driven by a need for drugs.

  (By the way, I don’t want to make it sound like all poor people are involved in crime. Clearly not so. Nor do I want to imply that middle-class people or rich people don’t sometimes engage in violent crime. They certainly do. Nonetheless, studies show that crime rates tend to be higher in poorer neighborhoods, and there is often a link between poverty and crime.)

   No amount of added policing in Bridgeport and fancy new retail development on the harbor is going to end violent crime here. New stores and restaurants will bring in a few more jobs and more tax revenue. Those are positive, but limited steps, towards improving the city.

     To really roll back poverty in Bridgeport and cities like it --- and in the process make those cities safer --- you have to put masses of unemployed people to work, and give them sustainable incomes and real hope.

   Bridgeport and other cities cannot solve this problem on their own.

  What’s needed are large publicly-funded jobs programs coming from the state and federal governments along the lines of the New Deal.

   The private sector --- at least on a substantial level --- is not going to create jobs. The industries that used to employ thousands in Bridgeport are gone. They’re not coming back.

   In the new globalized economy manufacturing firms will not come here when they can pay workers so much less in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Mexico.

   Service and retail jobs have been created to a certain extent, and there will be more in the future. But in terms of overall numbers, these jobs won’t fill the void. You’re still going to have thousands of people looking for work in Bridgeport.

   The same picture applies to old industrial cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest.

 In the depths of the Depression in the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt began the New Deal, with a central aim of putting people back to work. He said, paraphrasing, ‘if the private sector won’t provide jobs, the government will.’

  The New Deal, in particular the Works Progress Administration, put over 8 million people to work between 1935 and 1943. That was a lot of people then, and it would be a lot of people today.

  WPA workers went out and built roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and airports.

  There’s no reason why this kind of public works jobs program can’t be set up again. We have the money. This nation’s incredibly bloated military budget can be cut, freeing up billions. Rich people and corporations can be taxed more heavily, creating billions more.

  A New Deal for 2015 in this country is entirely dooable and absolutely necessary. Isn’t there a need to put people to work today rebuilding our nation’s roads, bridges and schools?

 A major public jobs program on the state level is also possible. Again, the money is there. The claims of our governor and others that times are tight and we have to cut back are as wrongheaded as can be. We are the richest state in the country, and have incredibly well-off residents, including billionaires. Just summon the political will and levy a higher tax on the wealthy, and plenty of new funds will be raised.

  The old idea that the private sector will provide all the jobs necessary, as long business and the wealthy are not taxed too much and corporations are not regulated too much, has been discredited. It doesn’t work.

  The government has to be involved in job creation. This is the only way for really turning our national economy around and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. It will also put people back to work in cities across the country, like Bridgeport, and ultimately create better and safer urban environments.    



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