Is It Time for a Federal Jobs Guarantee?

May 3, 2018

In recent weeks, several Democratic policymakers—including senators Kirsten GillibrandCory Booker, and Bernie Sanders—have announced proposals for jobs guarantee bills. Among the researchers advising these new pieces of legislation are former RSF visiting scholar William Darity (Duke University), Darrick Hamilton (New School), and Mark Paul (Duke University). Darity, Hamilton, and Paul are co-authors of an article in a recent issue of RSF journal that outlines how a federal jobs guarantee would reduce poverty in the U.S.

In their RSF article, the authors note that unemployment is one of the strongest predictors of poverty and varies significantly by race, with unemployment rates for black workers consistently around twice the unemployment rate of white workers (see graph below). “Even when black students complete degrees in a statistics, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field, ostensibly fields in high demand by the labor market,” the authors write, “they still experience markedly higher rates of unemployment.” 

They argue that a federal jobs guarantee (FJG) offering a living wage and benefits would not only ameliorate these racial disparities but would also serve as an automatic stabilizer during economic downturns and help eliminate poverty-wage employment. “By establishing a condition whereby the lowest paid job in the FJG program offers nonpoverty wages and benefits, including health insurance for the worker and their family,” the authors state, “the federal job guarantee would set a new economy-wide floor on the level of compensation that the private sector would need to offer to attract workers.”

In the paper, they also refute several common criticisms of a federal jobs guarantee, such as the claim that the program would be prohibitively expensive, the claim that it would hurt small businesses, and the claim that it would affect people’s work ethic.

Read the full article in RSF.

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