A New Yorker's Opinion: Employment, L Trains and Infrastructure, a Lament

Opinion

   on December 02 2011 11:27 AM

Having completed my morning's scanning of the news on The New York Times, Bloomberg, NY1, CBS News, while 1010 Wins, the venerable inventor of all-news radio played in the background, I was cautiously optimistic to see the unemployment rate plunging to 8.6 percent. Then I was somewhat alarmed, thanks to Motoko Rich's report of study, due out Dec. 9th, by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers shows that just 7 percent of those who lost jobs after the financial crisis have returned to or exceeded their previous financial position and maintained their lifestyles.

So for the moment, at least, unemployment seems to have dropped to 8.6 percent nationwide, which is great. That said, it certainly seems from the Rutgers study that almost everyone is taking a financial haircut, just to find whatever work they can.

That is not nearly so cheery. And frankly, the first thing I think of, when I think of jobs, is our crumbling infrastructure, which will kill our economy down the road-assuming there are any passable roads left for our economy to drive over, now that we've crossed that bridge to the 21st century.

In line with my infrastructural myopia, my  gaze next fell to a compelling little piece in the New York Daily News about the hipsters' favorite subway they love to hate, the L train. Or should I say the bane of everyone's existence who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn? Why a bane? Because it seems like every single, solitary weekend there is work being done on it, which means it is not running from Brooklyn's new mecca of hipness to Manhattan-the old center of money. 

According to reporter Simone Weichselbaum, the L has been stopped for repairs by the Transit Authority almost a dozen times since July-and there are more stoppages planned in February and March. Besides inconveniencing hipsters, it is slamming local Williamsburg small businesses.

For instance, Weischelbaum reports that one such owner, Misha Anderson, of Woodley & Bunny hair salon, loses 20 grand in sales every weekend the L is down. Irony, that staple of hipsterness, also struck Williamsburg's Peachfrog owner Bill Norton. He noted that the latest outage of the L happened on so-called Small Business Saturday. After all, he told the News, We are a tourist mecca now. And we can't get tourists when there are no trains.

This led me, once again, to reflect on the convergence our employment crisis, infrastructure construction and the hipness that can-and must-draw a global market to local marketplaces that wish to see their economies grow and thrive. That, it would seem, is the real new world order.

I remember just a few years ago, when Richard Ravitch commuted to Albany in a futile effort to get those august legislators to deal realistically with the MTA's desperate need to upgrade New York City's subway system, parts of which, like the lights that manage the train traffic safely are made with parts now a full century old!

Of course, nothing happened and now the poor MTA, for all its issues, has to try to fix things piecemeal, to great inconvenience and economic hardships for all.   

My sense of the proper role of government is that one of the main reasons it exists is to create the fabric that connects different elements of society and preserves the ability of all of us to buy, sell, and be safe in our homes. From that comes the notion of citizens' funding of armies and police to protect us, trade relationships that are fair and balanced with those outside our borders, and, yes, responsibility to build and maintain an infrastructure that allows us to move ourselves and our goods about efficiently and safely.

It doesn't, I don't think, mean the government should be in the innovation business, such as funding, for example, the electric car business. But it should be in the road business and rail business-and the other infrastructural needs of the 21st century.

Why? Because we all need these services to function properly, so we can take care of our own businesses, just like the small businesspeople in Williamsburg. It is a global village today, and if you want to be part of it, you have to be able to ship and receive goods and people have to be able to find you and to get to you, just like the small shops in Williamsburg.

And, just incidentally, infrastructure construction is where good jobs come from for many of the under- or unemployed. And those are not jobs that can be outsourced, either.

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