For decades, the idea of government-guaranteed jobs for all Americans has stalked the outer edges of political debate. It has been promoted by labor unions and has ideological support among some progressive thinkers, but in recent years hasn’t been seen as a mainstream policy issue for the Democratic party. Now, that may be changing.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told The Nation she supports a government-backed jobs guarantee. “Guaranteed jobs programs, creating floors for wages and benefits, and expanding the right to collectively bargain are exactly the type of roles that government must take to shift power back to workers and our communities,” she said. “Corporate interests have controlled the agenda in Washington for decades so we can’t tinker at the margins and expect to rebuild the middle class and stamp out inequality. We need to get back to an economy that rewards workers, not just shareholder value and CEO pay.”
Gillibrand is widely considered to be a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and a jobs guarantee will definitely be part of that discussion. Already, major Democratic think tanks have been prepping detailed policies for how the federal government can guarantee that every worker can get a job.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for example, recently released a paper arguing for a job guarantee through a national infrastructure bank that would set a floor on wages and benefits. The Center for American Progress has also crafted a job-guarantee proposal it dubs “a Marshall Plan for America.”
The CBPP paper* envisions an infrastructure bank that would fund vital projects and ensure that jobs are well-paid, with health insurance and paid leave. The National Investment Employment Corps would guarantee a minimum annual wage of $24,600, with opportunities to advance and health and leave benefit. The plan’s mean expected wage of $32,500 a year is more than three times the highest proposed universal basic income.
The government would also be able to use this job-creating ability to expand jobs in sectors where the market won’t currently invest. “You can imagine greening the entire United States,” said Darrick Hamilton, an economist who co-authored the CBPP paper. “The ideas of the jobs go far beyond my imagination, and the NEIC allows communities to have a say in the projects they need.”
Hamilton noted that a job guarantee “would especially benefit marginalized and stigmatized workers that face structural barriers in the private sector.” As his CBPP paper notes, a job guarantee has a long history in the United States: Early versions of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978 included language that would have established a Job Guarantee Office, but it was scrapped in favor of an “incrementalist approach.” There are international examples as well, from the Argentina’s Jefes y Jefas program and India’s and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to South Korea’s Moon Jae-in’s responding to the country’s rising inequality with a promise to create 810,000 government jobs.