Progressives have begun to dream more boldly. We have graduated from a public option to single payer. From lower sentences to eliminating cash bail. From motor-voter to automatic-voter registration. From affordable to free college. And from a $15 minimum wage to guaranteed good jobs for all.
America’s founding sin and its continuing greatest failure is the racialized inequality that has been built into our economy. And, as the 2016 election made clear, the Democratic Party has struggled to imagine an agenda that addresses race and class at the same time. This failure left open political terrain that could be occupied by the racism and corporatism of Donald Trump.
Done correctly, a good-jobs guarantee would largely eliminate poverty in the United States. It would directly and radically improve the lives of long-term unemployed and “unemployable” people—particularly the black, latinx, and Native workers who suffer from both structural and malicious discrimination. It would combat gender inequities. It would facilitate a just transition to a carbon-free economy. It would strengthen our economy’s long-term trajectory and people’s daily lives by creating transit, energy, and communications infrastructure. And it would enrich Americans’ lives by funding child, elder, and special-needs care.
A good-job guarantee would pay for much of itself by eliminating the need for unemployment insurance and for many welfare programs. It would also lower the costs associated with the opioid epidemic and our system of mass incarceration. At the same time, the job guarantee would improve the performance of the private sector by increasing consumer demand, upgrading physical and human resources, and reducing the fluctuations of business cycles. For employees, it would remove the fear of firing that can prevent individuals from fighting sexual harassment, discrimination, corporate abuse, and anti-union activity. It would also tighten labor markets, putting employees in a strong position to improve wages and working conditions.
And it would overhaul our politics by positioning progressives and the Democratic Party as genuine advocates for shared prosperity. A good-jobs guarantee is, in a sense, the succinct sum total of much of the progressive movement’s economic agenda.
Today, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, we should recommit ourselves to completing the great unfinished work of the civil-rights movement. And there is a political path forward. In just a few years, we can push a good-jobs guarantee from white papers to a presidential signature, but we have to start now.
The concept of a good-jobs guarantee has a proud and privileged place in the history of American progressivism. The first article in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights was the “right to employment,” building on the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, which employed over 8 million people. After her husband was assassinated, Coretta Scott King continued campaigning for economic justice and the right to a job in an effort that helped lead to the 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act, the ambition of which has never been fully realized.