The America Serves section of President-elect Obama’s new transition web site, Change.gov, suggests a large expansion in national service. Conservative and civil-liberties bloggers think he’s calling for a non-military draft for young adults: They envision the Obama Youth marching off to do The One’s bidding.
“America Serves” starts with an Obama quote defining the American Dream as serving your nation, community or neighborhood.
“When you choose to serve — whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood — you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream.”
We are all community organizers now.
The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps.
That’s a lot of corpses — why not just expand AmeriCorps? — but it seems to be voluntary. However, students may not have a choice.
Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.
He’s going to require children and young adults to accept the call? I think someone did too much summarizing when taking proposals from the Obama/Biden campaign site. That called for public service to be both “universal” and “voluntary” — quite the oxymoron — with a $4,000 tax credit for 100 or more hours per year. The government would “encourage” schools to develop “service learning” programs in middle and high school. Presumably, the feds would pay the cost: Someone’s got to keep track of the hours, nag the non-completers and develop and teach a curriculum to turn involuntary service into “learning.” (In my years of real volunteering, I’ve seen a lot of kids show up to fill school requirements. It’s easy to tell them from voluntary volunteers.)
Radley Balko wonders what kind of service would prove credit-worthy.
Something tells me that you’d be more likely to get one of Obama’s vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN’s living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.
Eugene Volokh raises another point: If national servants are assigned real jobs, what about the people doing that work now?
If, for instance, college students help out in schools, I take it there’d be fewer jobs for teacher’s aides. Moreover, the loss of such possible union jobs will be roughly proportional to the public value that the community servants will provide: If the college students require more supervision than they provide value, that might mean more union jobs, but it will also mean that they won’t do much good to the institution they’re supposedly serving.
Untrained youths usually don’t provide much value; training short-timers costs a lot of money. Unions will demand that “volunteers” don’t infringe on unionized workers’ jobs. That suggests the national servants will be assigned marginal and menial tasks.
Update: The “America Serves” section of the Change.gov site has been changed: “Required” is out. Service for students is now a “goal.”
BizzyBlog points out that a $4,000 credit for 100 hours of service is $40 an hour. That certainly would motivate Americans to enroll in a low-cost community college for at least a semester. Even full-time workers could enroll: Surely, it would be unfair to discriminate against people who can’t afford to attend classes full-time or don’t pass all their classes or already have a degree.