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Commentary

The government should put young people to work to fix up our state

Jack Lessenberry

I gave a speech to a large group of retirees a few years ago. Afterwards, a woman came up and asked me if I were single. When I told her no, she said that was too bad, because I had what every woman wanted.

That’s not something I hear every day, and I have to say it was flattering, even though the lady was at least 20 years older than me.

“That’s silly,” I told her. “I’m old, fat and my hair is gray.”  She nodded, and said, “yeah, but you’ve still got what every woman wants … you’ve got a job.”

You might call that sex appeal, twenty-first century Michigan style.

There is something to be said for having a job, all right, and recently I was reminded of my brief moment as an employed sex symbol.

Two Democratic state legislators are pushing a well-intentioned but sort of silly bill.

Representative Andy Schor and Senator Curtis Hertel would offer an income tax credit for college graduates equal to – pay attention here – 50% of the amount of qualified student loan payments the student made during a single tax year.

So how much money is that?

Schor said it could mean maybe $1,500. But it would be hard to use an income tax credit if you don’t have an income.

Try to imagine a young woman who has been offered a good job in Chicago.

“I’m sorry, I can’t go,” she tells her would-be employer. “Michigan is giving me a tax credit instead.”

Right.

What Michigan needs is jobs -- not tax credits --not new laws about same-sex adoptions, or wolf hunting.

Jobs.

And here’s a way to get them. Start a "National Infrastructure Corps," and put everyone between the ages of 18 and 20 to work, unless they join the Armed Forces instead.

I see a lot of college students. Very few freshmen or sophomores have any idea what they want to do. I also see a lot of our state’s roads and bridges. Very few are in great shape.

So here’s my proposal: we put young people to work for two years fixing up this state. We train them, pay them a stipend and subsidize their education when they get out, just as the military does. Everyone would be a winner.

Now, there are those who always make the tired claim that government can’t create any jobs, only the private sector can.

Except that this isn’t true. And something like this has been tried before. In seven years, it built more than half a million miles of roads and more than 100,000 bridges -- plus thousands of miles of sewers and drains.

It was called the WPA, or Works Progress Administration. It reduced unemployment, rebuilt America, and was worth every penny. We’ve been waiting for years for private industry to put everyone back to work, and it isn’t happening.

So we need to do it. Some will call it “socialism,” of course. It’s always easier to call names than to think.  But, in fact, the government for years has operated a giant socialist enterprise that has created millions of jobs and repeatedly saved this nation.

And most conservatives I know love it. They call it the military.