What if the federal government were the employer of last resort?
In other words, when jobs are scarce or exploitative, the government steps in with guaranteed universal employment.
This is what President Franklin Roosevelt meant when he asserted all Americans have a “right to a useful and remunerative job” in his “Second Bill of Rights.” As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) lifted millions out of poverty.
Building on the WPA’s success, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is considering introducing a plan for the U.S. government to guarantee to every American worker “who wants or needs one” a job paying at least $15 an hour with health benefits and retirement options.
According to the Washington Post, Sanders’ plan would divide the country up into 12 regional districts to which state and local governments would submit project proposals. Approved proposals would be forwarded to the Department of Labor which would direct workers to 2,500 current job training centers and employment offices.
But the objective is to provide more than just jobs. Sanders’ plan has the potential to alter the power dynamic between classes because workers would be more empowered in negotiating workplace conditions and salary without fear of reprisal.
According to the Post, though still crafting the proposal:
“Sanders joins two other rumored 2020 Democratic presidential contenders who have expressed support for the idea of a jobs guarantee. The push reflects a leftward move in the party’s economic policy, away from President Barack Obama’s use of public-private partnerships or government incentives to reshape private markets and toward an unambiguous embrace of direct government intervention.”
Advocates claim the plan would lead to more competition, increasing workers’ wages since employers would have to offer more comparable salaries and benefits to retain employees. Racial inequality would likely decrease as well since it is statistically harder for African Americans to find work than whites. Gender inequality, too, would be reduced because the plan calls for the expansion of federal childcare work.
Economist Darrick Hamilton said:
“The goal is to eliminate working poverty and involuntary unemployment altogether. This is an opportunity for something transformative, beyond the tinkering we’ve been doing for the last 40 years, where all the productivity gains have gone to the elite of society.”
Of course, there is still the Republican-controlled Congress.
Brian Riedl of conservative think tank, Manhattan Institute, commented:
“It completely undercuts a lot of industries and companies. There will be pressure to introduce a higher wage or certain benefits that the private sector doesn’t offer.”
Economist Ernie Tedeschi, who served in President Obama’s Treasury Department, criticized:
“It would be extremely expensive, and I wonder if this is the best, most targeted use of the amount of money it would cost.”
“If Republicans could give $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest among us, why can’t we invest a similar amount in a guaranteed jobs plan for regular Americans who are unemployed and willing to work to better their local community?”
Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced in April the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, similar to Sanders’ plan, in which the government would form 15 districts, each guaranteeing jobs that pay a minimum of $15 an hour.
Of the Sanders plan, Darrick Hamilton said:
“This is not a radical idea. It was well-couched in the Democratic platform that existed during its heyday. I’m glad Democrats are trending back to their roots.”
The concept of universal full employment was a core objective of the 1963 March on Washington, and was included in the 1967 Freedom Budget.
Without universal employment, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin warned, the movement was doomed to fail.
In the introduction to the 1967 Freedom Budget, A. Philip Randolph stated:
“The tragedy is that the workings of our economy so often pit the white poor and the black poor against each other at the bottom of society. The tragedy is that groups only one generation removed from poverty themselves, haunted by the memory of scarcity and fearful of slipping back, step on the fingers of those struggling up the ladder.”
Image credit: huffingtonpost.com