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Jobs are key to rebuilding, professor says

"It's all about jobs" must be the tireless mantra of efforts to rebuild the families, communities and economy of the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina, according to a professor in the Sloan School of Management.

In a Sept. 15 essay published online by the Center for American Progress, Thomas A. Kochan, the George M. Bunker Professor of Management and co-director of the MIT Workplace Center, asserted that the federal government, organized labor and community-based agencies must unite to reconstruct the Gulf Coast's shattered economy.

In his essay, "Jobs for All: The Key to Rebuilding After Katrina," Kochan wrote, "The key principle should be to give all adults able and willing to work access to training and a guaranteed job in the cleanup and rebuilding process."

He recommended that Congress and President Bush lead the effort by creating an emergency economic and social reconstruction fund.

The federal emergency fund would provide incentives for private-sector firms to work with labor and community groups and apply to rebuilding efforts their combined "best practices in job training, employment and labor relations, health care and family social service delivery," he wrote.

Kochan, the author of "Restoring the American Dream: A Working Families' Agenda for America," described the goal of post-hurricane recovery efforts as a chance to "restore hope and trust in the American dream for Katrina's victims."

In his essay, he noted that for many people in the storm-ravaged coastal zone, a united intervention by government, labor and community agencies to provide jobs and training would equal building, rather than rebuilding, a viable economy.

"Let's face reality. Hundreds of thousands of family breadwinners are out of work. Many of these have skills and are ready and eager to get back to work. A good number, however, lack basic skills or have never worked in anything but the underground economy," he wrote.

According to Kochan, a federally funded, united program that's "all about jobs" could provide training and work for those now poor and unskilled in the Gulf Coast area.

Without such a program, the legacy of Katrina will be a repeat, perhaps intensified, of the cycle of poverty.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 28, 2005 (download PDF).

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