Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

August 26th, 2011 11:03 AM

Hurricane Irene: Finally A Jobs Plan We Can Believe In

While our friends on the left coast are chuckling about Tuesday’s 5.8 on the Richter scale earthquake on the East Coast and its apparent lack of sufficient disaster drama on the Hollywood scale,  tens of millions of us are gearing up for Hurricane Irene’s strike.  From North Carolina to Maine, water and wind damage will likely be impressive enough to make the first few moments of the news cycle, even in other parts of the world and quite possibly even in California. 

The anticipation shouldn’t all be dire at this point though.  For millions of working people who haven’t been able to find work, Mother Nature is about to deliver a jobs stimulus package in the form of clean-up work needed in the days and weeks to come.  Hurricane Irene isn’t just chasing those suffering beach-goers inland, it is going to break trees and power lines and flood basements and wash away lots of stuff. 

The professional contractors will be hired by big business and governments – local, state and federal – to quickly bring them back up to speed.  But the rest of the work – in the neighborhoods and for smaller businesses – will have to be done by working people with chain saws to cut broken limbs, shovels to scoop out mud and sewage and trash bags to fill and haul to the landfills and curbs.  And the people who will want their places cleaned up the quickest will be?  You guessed it.  The folks with long, winding driveways and lots of formerly beautiful landscaping and tree canopies.  And these are coincidentally the same people with money to spend to pay working class people to clean up.

This is a prediction I can make with great certainty as I watched my then young sons pull down quite a bit of money in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in Miami in 1992.  Rich kids don’t really like to do a lot of heavy yard work in many cases, and in some cases while wealthier folks might have been willing, their families simply did not have the skills with chain saws, axes, etc., to get the work done safely.  Working class people are more often ready, willing and able to do the hard physical work required.  My boys worked hard but often came home having made much more for a day’s hard work than they could have dreamed of if the places where they had their regular part-time, minimum wage jobs had been able to reopen quickly. 

I remember the utility workers staging in the parks north of Miami as Andrew approached much as I watched on the news last night as utility workers began staging around the Atlantic regions in anticipation of the power restoration work ahead.  They will have plenty to do, and they may even get lots of overtime work that will also mean more infusion of money back to working class people.

So, while I pray the loss of life will be minimal as the weekend unfolds and Hurricane Irene blasts our right coast, I am at least comforted that some wealth will shift in the aftermath from the pockets of the wealthy back down the pipeline to the pockets of the working people.  For months to come, there will be construction work that has been lacking in the recessionary economy.  Will these be off-setting amounts?  Hard to say.  But if the big money folks aren’t all that worried about the approaching danger, it is because they may also see some reason to believe in nature’s power to create economic activity when human intervention in the crisis has been so lacking.

By September 1, when the 170,000 registered nurse members of National Nurses United convene events and actions in more than 60 locales from right coast to left coast and many points in-between, they’ll be fighting for some appropriate human intervention in this Wall Street profits-fueled financial crisis.  Join in.  Because we do not want to rely on the next hurricane or large-scale disaster to create jobs, do we?

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