Rahm Emanuel Creating Jobs

On a sunny golden October afternoon in Chicago, autumn leaves of promise swirling north on Hermitage Avenue, Rahm Emanuel leaned against his car paging intently through the Sunday New York Times.

He’s in faded jeans, gym shoes and a gray t-shirt. And his head snaps up as I pass on the sidewalk and say to him, “Don’t forget to win.”

He fires back in a blink, “Don’t forget to vote,” winks, shoots his head back into the paper and then looks up again. “Wait. I know you.”

I stop. “The writers project,” I say. “Putting writers to work.”

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s see. . .tell me again what that was. Just in case I forgot about it.”

“Economic development and jobs creation for writers. Like the WPA Federal Writer’s project of the 1930’s and 1940’s that employed Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Zora Huston, Richard Wright and Jim Thompson. Only updated for today. Here’s the link in case you want it for your blackberry.”


“ I don’t want a link. But tell me about how you updated this from 1936.”

“I made sure that brickbats and stink bombs tossed at the project screaming ‘welfare for artists,’ wouldn’t stick.”

“And you were gonna do that how?” Rahm Emanuel folded up the newspaper and stuck it under his arm.

“Practical outcomes for the books. Fund raising tools for non-profits. Corporate responsibility stories for corporations. Real stories. The voices of the actual people, not the marketing department. Oral history. Like Studs Terkel.”


“All the stuff you got going on,” I said. “Believe me, I understand how you wouldn’t remember.”

“Yeah,” and Rahm Emanuel smiled, “How about I don’t remember this. Your first book on the food pantry is behind schedule. It’s only being read by the editors from your client’s board right now. You ain’t gonna get it out in time for Christmas. Your proofs look good, The book is solid. And that guy you co-wrote it with, he’s good. Real good. But you are late. And you ain’t been pushing your next book on domestic violence at all. Fact is that it’s going nowhere fast. And the oral history of the radio station WXRT, did you really think that was gonna happen?”

“So I guess.” I said a bit quieter, looking down, “You do remember. I had no idea you were tracking this, especially with all you got going on, running for Mayor now and all.”

Rahm Emanuel tossed the folded newspaper into the open window of the car, walked over to where I stood on the sidewalk and jabbed the heel of his hand into my shoulder.

“You figured out a way for writers to find work. Of COURSE I remember. And of COURSE I tracked it! I track everything. I track your friend who helped get the Ford Plant open on Torrence Avenue and all the jobs that came with that. I track EVERYTHING. Whattya think this is? So now you tell me, what’s the next question?”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“Next question. The next question. The next question is how do we get more jobs to Chicago? Huh? How do we do that? How do we do that now? You know about writer jobs huh? Now tell me about ALL jobs. I want ‘em in Chicago and I want them now.”

“Well I got a friend that works on this.”

“Of course you do. You’re a Chicagoan. We all got friends. And your friend is?”

“Calls himself Dr. Work.”


“Uh huh. Stupid name. But I’ll give you 20 seconds. What is a ‘Dr. Work’ and how can he get jobs in Chicago?”

“Here’s how. By asking another question first.”

“Time’s running out kid. I need jobs now.”

“No. You need something else first. You need to connect people with work first.”

“10 seconds,” said Rahm Emanuel.”

“Guys that won the Nobel Prize in Economics this year? One of them from Northwestern? Did you see why he won?”

“OK, this might be worth another minute.”

“Here it is in a second. ‘The way people who need jobs and people who offer jobs CONNECT with each other doesn’t work the way a normal market works.” You could even say it was broken. But you have to say it’s gotta be addressed as the first step in putting people to work.

“Yeah. So?”

‘So the first question is not “How do we get jobs into Chicago?” That’s the SECOND question. The first question is, ‘How do we CONNECT people who need work with people who need work to be done?’ “

“So what you’re saying is, how do we find work when there are no jobs?”

“That’s it. In fact my friend Dr. Work. He even wrote a book with that title. We gotta connect people to the jobs, or as he calls it, the work. Because there is work.”

“This working anywhere else? I can’t have some theory being all I got. You might have ah noticed. I am not a theory guy.

“Neither is Dr. Work. And yeah it works all over the place. He’s got 37 stories in his book about where it worked.”

“Stories are nice kid, but I’m talking public policy. This working anywhere else?”

“I’ll tell you about the stories some other time. But yeah. I been working on this since I ran education for Jobs For Youth Chicago in the 1980’s. Connecting people to work. It comes before the job. Always has. And it’s working today on the public policy level. Here, put this link in your blackberry.


It’s the “New Deal Programme” in the U.K. Look at the goals. This is not just about skills training. God bless health care workers and construction crews, but we gotta connect people with other jobs too!”

‘And this Dr. Work character? Besides needing to change his name. . .he does what?”

“He helps people find work when there are no jobs.”

“OK tomorrow. Bring him with you. 6:00 a.m. You know we start early. We’re gonna bring a jobs program that has some teeth to it to Chicago.”

“Ok, but we gotta win,” I said.

Rahm Emanuel was silent for a moment. He looked up at the clear blue autumn sky and then said, “Look at me kid.”

I looked him straight in the eye and then I said to him, “We’ll win.”

One Response to “Rahm Emanuel Creating Jobs”

  1. Dale Says:

    An inspiring, creative idea. As always.

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