A Federal Job Guarantee 

Winston Apple - September 9, 2022

 In his masterwork, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, published in 1936, during the depths of the Great Depression, noted British economist John Maynard Keynes proposed a job guarantee as the solution to the recurring problem of recessions and depressions, which he identified as an inherent part of the “business cycle” that plagues laissez-faire (market) economies.    

Eight years later, “The right to a useful and remunerative job” was the first right listed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Economic Bill of Rights that he proposed in his 1944 State of the Union Address.   

The “Jobs for All Act” has been introduced in Congress several times, most recently by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson in February of 2019.  The bill has never garnered much support in Congress despite the fact that a solid majority of voters support a job guarantee.  In a poll conducted by Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative in July of 2020, sixty-four percent of likely voters, including 78% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans, expressed support for a federal job guarantee program.  Jobs and “the economy” consistently rank among the top concerns of voters.   

By providing federal funding while maintaining local control, the Jobs for All Act proposed a model that would move us to true full employment very efficiently without creating another massive bureaucracy.  The act proposed the establishment of the National Full Employment Trust Fund to create employment opportunities for the unemployed by issuing Employment Opportunity Grants to state and local governments and to non-profit organizations.    

This approach would allow us to “achieve genuine full employment and fulfill the right to useful work at living wages for all persons able, willing and seeking employment”.   [Quotation is from the text of the Jobs for All Act.] 

The act provides for employment on a wide range of socially useful jobs.  Here is the full list [taken from the text of the most recent version of the act itself]: 

(1) The construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, and site improvement of affordable housing and public facilities, including improvements in the energy efficiency or environmental quality of such public facilities or housing. 

(2) The provision of human services, including childcare, health care, support services for individuals and families with special needs, education, after-school and vacation programs for children, and recreational and cultural enrichment programs for persons of all ages. 

(3) Programs that provide disadvantaged youth with opportunities for employment, education, leadership development, entrepreneurial skills development, and training. 

(4) The repair, remodeling, and beautification of schools, community centers, libraries, and other community-based public facilities, and the augmentation of staffing for the services they provide. 

(5) The restoration and revitalization of abandoned and vacant properties to alleviate blight in distressed and foreclosure-affected areas. 

(6) The expansion of emergency food programs to reduce hunger and promote family stability. 

(7) The augmentation of staffing in Head Start, and other early childhood education programs to promote school readiness, early literacy, life-long learning, and family involvement in their children’s education. 

(8) The maintenance, renovation and improvement of parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces. 

(9) Providing labor for non-capital-intensive aspects of federally or State-funded infrastructure projects. 

(10) The implementation of environmental initiatives designed to conserve natural resources, remediate environmental damage, reverse climate change, and achieve environmental sustainability. 

(11) The enhancement of emergency preparedness for natural and other community disasters and of post-emergency assistance for the victims of disasters. 

(12) The expansion of work-study opportunities for secondary and post-secondary students, and the creation of “bridge employment” opportunities for recent graduates who have been unable to find work in the occupations for which they have trained. 

(13) Programs that emulate the Federal art, music, theater, and writers’ projects of the Works Projects Administration by providing work for unemployed writers, musicians, artists, dancers and actors on projects that are consistent with the public service and equality-enhancing objectives of this Act. 

(14) The provision of job training to better equip Program employees to perform their program-funded jobs or to allow unemployed and underemployed individuals to obtain employment for which they otherwise would not qualify. 

(15) Other activities analogous to those described in paragraphs (1) through (14) that address public needs and can be implemented quickly. 

Keynes made the irrefutable observation that every worker who is unemployed despite being willing and able to work represents an unnecessary reduction in the gross national product of a nation. 

In his 1944 State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt made a remark that remains applicable today: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.  ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’  People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”  

For many workers in America today, the problem is under-employment rather than unemployment.  Many workers are trapped in jobs that do not pay a living wage.  They are forced to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, especially if they are raising a family. 

Having a job guarantee in place would provide a living wage, economic security, and peace of mind for everyone who is willing to do an honest day’s work on a socially useful job.   

President Roosevelt asked “the Congress to explore the means for implementing (an) economic bill of rights - for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do.”  We are still waiting for Congress to fulfill that responsibility.   

With every seat in the House of Representatives and one-third of the seats in the Senate up for election this November, this would be an excellent time for the people of the United States to ask every candidate seeking one of those seats if they will support the Jobs for All Act in the next session of Congress and let them know that promising to do so is a requirement for our support and our votes. 

Copyright 2022 Gary Winston Apple