Summer jobs program proposed

PORTLAND — Drawing on the example of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, Gov. Ted Kulongoski has proposed putting 12,000 unemployed Oregonians to work this summer helping out at food banks, restoring wetlands, cutting brush, and building trails in parks.

The emergency summer jobs program would pay $8.40 to $10 an hour, and the work would last four to six months, he said in a speech at the City Club in Portland.

Local governments, state agencies and nonprofit organizations could offer the entry-level jobs.

He said he would ask the Legislature to tap the state's unemployment insurance trust fund for the $90 million to pay the wages.

The $1.5 billion fund has enough money in reserve to withstand the one-time expense, Kulongoski said in a statement. He said it is not likely to affect the rates employers pay in insurance taxes over the next few years.

"We have a job emergency in Oregon," Kulongoski said. "Over the last four months, this state has been shedding jobs at an alarming rate."

The state's unemployment rate stands at 12.1 percent, second-highest in the nation. New numbers, for April, are expected Monday.

Kulongoski, a Democrat, briefed the legislative leaders of his party late Thursday afternoon. They said Friday they are pleased with the proposal, but it's too early to predict if it will be approved. The Democrats have commanding majorities in both House and Senate.

Senate President Peter Courtney said he sent Kulongoski's proposal to legislative lawyers to see whether it's legal to use the insurance funds as Kulongoski proposes.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Courtney said. But, he said, "I don't know enough about it to guarantee it at this point."

The summer jobs effort comes atop both a state-level construction program of nearly $175 million and President Barack Obama's stimulus program.

Oregon, Kulongoski said, needs more effort to get people to work: There are 81,000 unemployed people who have registered with the State Employment Department for entry-level jobs, but fewer than 700 openings are listed.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the best remembered and longest running of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, employing hundreds of thousands of young men living in camps. They planted trees, built roads and trails and helped with other construction and conservation efforts.

Many American parks still have lodges, cabins, shelters, scenic lookouts and other structures built by the CCC, which got under way shortly after Roosevelt took office in 1933 and ended after World War II began.

"President Roosevelt gave hope to millions of unemployed Americans ..." Kulongoski said. "We need to take the same kind of immediate action in Oregon."

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