Congress should bring back Civilian Conservation Corp

Published 9:03 pm Sunday, September 28, 2008

By By Tray Smith
During the last great financial crisis, to which every succeeding crisis has been compared but none have rivaled, the federal government put young men to work combating soil erosion and restoring forest in order to fight unemployment and utilize the strength of America’s teenagers. This effort was coordinated by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the most successful and most popular New Deal agency.
Unlike many other unnecessary relics of the New Deal that are still around today – the Tennessee Valley Authority and agriculture subsidies, for instance – the CCC was eliminated during World War II because of the military’s need for young men. Today, it should be reestablished to fill our nation’s need for young leaders.
Contemporary school children – disenfranchised by intuitions that teach skills necessary for standardized test but irrelevant to ordinary life – would gain much from holding an actual job that serves the national interest. Our education system, intent on providing all of its students with a well rounded academic curriculum, would be more effective if it provided students with a variety of life experiences, including work. If students who are going to work as manual labors their entire life must first spend twelve years in a science class, why shouldn’t students who plan to be scientist first complete manual labor community service projects?
A modern CCC would not be able to conduct the type of widespread conservation projects its predecessor did; nor does it need to. A modern CCC could keep teenagers busy painting their schools, laying sidewalks and bicycle trails, planting trees, maintaining public transportation entities, and serving in other capacities that utilize our nation’s youth to build our country up for the future they will inherit.
While the federal government would be responsible for establishing, maintaining, and supervising a modern day youth workforce, it could construct the effort at low cost by allowing states and municipalities to contract the young workers for local public works projects, and by requiring that sub branches of government give the youth agency priority for contracts on projects financed through federal grants.
A new and improved CCC could pay all teenagers who work for it the minimum wage - if not more - and divert at least twenty percent of their earnings to a savings fund in lieu of federal income and payroll taxes. The savings fund could then be used to buy a home or pursue a postsecondary education.
Students would obviously be forced to spend less time working during the academic year; however, giving students the option of holding a job with an organization that plans work around the demands of school and teenage life would likely decrease the number of students who choose to drop out of high school early and go to work.
Participation in such an agency should not be mandatory, but it would be uniquely positioned to help students comply with two reforms that should accompany the CCC’s reestablishment. First, all students should be responsible for completing 100 hours of community service before they graduate. Second, all students should be responsible for working 100 hours before they are allowed to receive a diploma. Eventually, bureaucratic national service organizations like AmeriCorps could be streamlined into the more workmen-like CCC, with the goal of putting an ever increasing share of America’s young people to work rebuilding America.
Such an initiative wouldn’t directly impact the current finance debacle, but it would impact the future of our economy by making our teenagers more responsible for and capable of pursuing work. By giving every young American a stake in the physical assets of our democracy, a reestablished CCC would also make them more proud of the assets we have. Therefore, it would nurture patriotism in a generation disturbingly apathetic towards its country’s values. A new, peacetime CCC could also supplement the military by providing it with trained, prepared recruits, rather than competing against it for man power as happened in WWII.
America’s young people need a stake in this country. We can give that to them, and improve our public facilities at the same time.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@

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