Spotlight Exclusives

Yes, We Can Have Good Jobs for All

Sarah Treuhaft and Darrick Hamilton Sarah Treuhaft and Darrick Hamilton, posted on

Every day it seems, the digital revolution sends a new warning sign that the “future of work” could have far fewer family-supporting jobs. Obscured by this narrative, however, is the reality that our economic future will not be determined by technology, but by the rules we set in place to shape it. A future without enough good jobs for all is a policy choice—and would be a moral and economic failure.

This is why we should take steps now to enact a Federal Job Guarantee.

A Federal Job Guarantee would ensure that every person who wants to work has a living-wage job with full benefits and full workers’ rights. Projects would meet community priorities and produce public benefits, such as environmental restoration and energy efficiency retrofits, public art and community greening, repairing streets and sidewalks, and strengthening childcare and elder care infrastructure. The program would be financed by the federal government and administered locally.

A job guarantee would transform our economy. The devastating experience of not finding employment would become obsolete. People facing discrimination in the job market—because of their race, their gender identity, or having a criminal record—would have real economic opportunity. Workers stuck in jobs where they are harassed or feel unsafe, or where they contend with unpredictable hours and schedules, would have a viable alternative. Poverty, racial inequity, and working poverty would all decline. And, when the next downturn hits, workers could take up guaranteed jobs—maintaining consumer demand and moderating the effects of the recession for workers and businesses alike.

This vast potential to deliver on economic security, dignity, and stability is why hundreds of individuals, leaders, and organizations (including our own) have signed on to a Jobs for All manifesto calling on policymakers to enact a job guarantee.

In doing so, we continue the fight for economic rights begun by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who acknowledged in his 1944 State of the Union address that the political rights guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights were inadequate to ensure true individual freedom and equality. He proposed an Economic Bill of Rights including a “useful and remunerative job” as the first and most fundamental right, in addition to a living wage; a home; health care; a good education; and economic protection in sickness, old age, or unemployment.

In 1948, this right was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights now signed by 192 countries. Among the document’s 30 inalienable rights is the right to employment with “just and favourable remuneration ensuring…an existence worthy of human dignity.”

The Jobs for All campaign also follows in the footsteps of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for guaranteed jobs in his final years along with guaranteed income for those who cannot work, and Coretta Scott King led a grassroots movement that ultimately fell short of winning a true job guarantee but helped shift the Federal Reserve’s focus toward full employment.

The Federal Job Guarantee has reemerged in the policy debate with gusto. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced legislation for a pilot program in 15 communities across the country, the Green New Deal Resolution includes a job guarantee, and Senator Sanders has made a job guarantee a key plank in his economic policy agenda. Polls show that the majority of eligible voters support guaranteed jobs—including 48 percent of Republicans—and faith communities and climate justice advocates are rallying around a job guarantee.

It’s no surprise that a jobs guarantee has its critics, who question the policy’s cost, impact on the private sector, and administration. While a job guarantee would require a significant budget, it should be seen as an investment in people, communities, and the environment that will bring cascading dividends. Establishing a higher standard for wages and benefits for the private sector is truly a feature of the job guarantee, not a flaw. It is simply unconscionable that 44 percent of American workers earn less than $18,000 per year while the CEOs of the largest 350 companies earn $18.9 million on average. A job guarantee would also help meet employer’s needs for skilled workers. And, there is precedent for creating public jobs at scale: the Works Progress Administration employed 8.5 million workers over an 8 year period, and Argentina and India have successfully run large-scale public employment efforts in more recent years.

In this moment of tremendous economic and ecological upheaval, it is time to take bold policy action to secure an inclusive, thriving, and sustainable 21st century American economy. It is time for a Federal Job Guarantee.

Sarah Treuhaft is a managing director at PolicyLink and Darrick Hamilton is an economist and executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University.

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