Tuesday, September 19, 2017

[NJFAC] What if we had a job guarantee

What America would look like if it guaranteed everyone a job Dylan Matthews 
Imagine if a well-paying job, with benefits and a high enough salary to pay for rent, transportation, and food, were a human right.

Imagine the US federal government established a policy whereby anyone who didn't have a job and wanted one could go into a local office for a government agency — call it the Works Progress Administration — and walk out with a regular government position paying a livable wage ($15 an hour, perhaps) and offering health, dental, and vision insurance, and retirement benefits, and child care for their kids.

Different people would do different things: teaching or working for after-school programs or providing child care or building roads and mass transit or driving buses and so on. But everyone would be guaranteed a job, including during recessions. Involuntary unemployment would be a thing of the past. No one who works would be in poverty.

That's a truly radical policy idea. But it has deep roots in the Democratic Party's past, from the New Deal's emergency employment programs to the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, a 1970s proposal that, as originally written, would have given unemployed Americans the right to sue the government.

Today, there are even some actual proposals on the table. In May, the Center for American Progress issued a report calling for a "large-scale, permanent program of public employment and infrastructure investment."


An effective job guarantee that eliminated unemployment and boosted wages without negative side effects could be a very good thing. But an ineffective job guarantee that amounts to a welfare check plus onerous work requirements wouldn't just be bad policy — it would also be politically toxic.

Why liberals are flocking to job guarantee plans in 2017

It might seem strange to be debating how best to solve mass joblessness at a time when the US unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, the lowest in over a decade.

....there are both political and policy reasons for why the job guarantee is suddenly a hot topic.

In the wake of the 2016 election, liberal commentators have latched onto the job guarantee — an idea pushed by some left-wing economists for years — as a way to forge a cross-racial working-class coalition. They need a plan that appeals to both to the white Wisconsin and Michigan voters who switched from Obama to Trump and to black and Latino workers left behind by deindustrialization. The ideal plan would both improve conditions for lower-income Americans while supporting Americans' strong intuition that people should work to earn their crust.

"A federal job guarantee is both universal—it benefits all Americans—and specifically ameliorative to entrenched racial inequality," Slate's Jamelle Bouie notes.

"The job guarantee asserts that, if individuals bear a moral duty to work, then society and employers bear a reciprocal moral duty to provide good, dignified work for all," Jeff Spross adds in the influential center-left journal Democracy.

"If Democrats want to win elections, they should imbue Trump's empty rhetoric with a real promise: a good job for every American who wants one," writes Bryce Covert in the New Republic. "It's time to make a federal jobs guarantee the central tenet of the party's platform."

But there's also a policy rationale for the idea's resurgence. Many experts think the unemployment rate makes the economy, or at least the labor market, look better than it really is. The unemployment rate only counts people looking for work, and the most recent recession and slow subsequent recovery forced some people out of the labor force. In January 2007, 80.3 percent of people ages 25 to 54 were employed; in July 2017, only 78.7 percent were.

If the rate had stayed at its prerecession peak, there'd be 2 million more people employed today. If the rate were at its all-time peak (81.9 percent, in April 2000), there'd be 4 million more people employed....

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Coalition

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