“We face an unemployment problem that is certainly without precedent in my lifetime,” said Paul Bremer, the US-appointed Governor of Iraq, as he unveiled a $100 million public works program for that battered country, using funds drawn from the Iraqi Central Bank. The move, according to the Wall Street Journal, is part of a broader effort to get Iraqis back to work, rebuild the country’s hospitals and highways and, generally, jump-start the moribund economy.
Meanwhile, back in Palestine, West Virginia–best known as the hometown of Private Jessica Lynch–nearly half of the adults in Wirt county are unemployed, the poverty rate hovers near 20 percent and funds for civic projects like rebuilding the 41-year old county swimming pool have completely dried up.
West Virginia generally derived little benefit from the “boom” years of the 1990s, and has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn. Research by the National Center for Children in Poverty shows that the state’s child poverty rate of 27.5 percent is almost ten points higher than the national average. And, according to recent census data, six percent of all West Virginia families still use wood as the sole fuel to heat their homes, five percent of households have no telephone service of any kind, and 12,009 families live without either plumbing or kitchen facilities.
So, where are the nation-building plans for Palestine, USA–and the other towns across America, forced to shorten school years, increase class size, eliminate preschool programs, close libraries, lay off highway workers, and slash health benefits? Where is the jobs program for the almost nine million unemployed Americans–and the many millions more underemployed (and underpaid)? Why can Iraqi public funds be used for hospitals, schools and highways, while, increasingly, US public funds are shrunken through tax cuts for the rich and diverted away from rebuilding our infrastructure and domestic security?
Next time this Administration announces a plan to build schools or roads or housing in Baghdad, we should ask: where is a similar plan for rebuilding Palestine, West Virginia?
It seems to me that the most authentic and appropriate way to support Private Lynch’s service would be to offer her community genuine assistance in overcoming poverty. In short, federal policies that provide opportunities and urgently-needed aid for the poorest communities in America–the places that disproportionately supply the ranks of the brave soldiers risking their lives in Iraq today.