A new New Deal for elders and artists

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Mon, 10/13/2008 - 23:58

Economic meltdown? The government rushes to bail out investment banks, banking instututions, and investors in mortgages. What about people, for example elders and artists? Here are some thoughts about a new New Deal.

Many people who were secure in their retirement are now threatened by major reductions in their income. Housing values are still falling and most forms of wealth have been diminished. The stock market loses more than a third of value in a week, so people who depended on the value of their investments have been hit hard. Boomers approaching retirement age must be in shock. People in their eighties continue to work, otherwise they would have difficulty in maintaining a simple lifestyle. People can't sell their homes at a time when they would prefer to downsize or move to assisted living.

Many seniors cannot afford to retire, or must return to the work force to make ends meet. In an economy that is shedding jobs, what is their outlook? It will be difficult to find jobs that pay well enough to provide an adequate income.

What can the government do to assist elders? And how can elders provide insight and hope to a nation?

Perhaps many elders will take an entrepreneurial approach and create a business. But they will need to find a source of capital, because even in a normal economic climate, an elderly person is going to find raising capital difficult. Home equity loans are a thing of the past, and the people who need to create an entrepreneurial income in their old age are not going to be seen as great credit risks. This is where a government program of loan guarantees or direct loans and grants could help keep thousands of people gainfully employed.

Another model for government intervention goes back to the New Deal--the Works Projects Administration or WPA (1935-1943). At a time when many were out of work, government-sponsored public works were of great importance. In this program the creative arts received a tremendous boost: under the WPA, the Federal Art Project included projects for music, theater, writing, and historical records. The result was not only a flourishing of work under the project, but the foundation of many careers. Photographers documented rural communities, artists created murals to enhance public buildings and documented construction of public works projects, and musicians performed concerts. Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan were just two of the people whose theatrical careers were launched. The work that the art community created gave new life and meaning to a nation struggling with the Great Depression.

Today, artists could be employed to document America as we develop a new economy, new industries, and new forms of community--helping people to understand and get involved in energy conservation, new green industries, and peaceful global initiatives. Elderly artists would bring a personal and historical perspective to this work, and they could form a teacher's corps to guide the nation's youth as well as teach creative skills. This would apply to all forms of art: theater, photography, painting, music, sculpture, and writing.

And what do I know about this? My father, Ernst Halberstadt, was a painter, muralist, and photographer and a supervisor in the WPA arts program.