Darity’s Dream: A Federal Job Guarantee to Save American Workers

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Giving to Duke

In 2018, getting political consensus on what’s best for the future of America can be a bit like cheering for Duke and Carolina at the same time. But Duke professor William “Sandy” Darity Jr. has managed to do just that; somehow, he’s found common ground in U.S. politics. His idea for a federal job guarantee to provide full-time work for any American seeking and unable to obtain satisfactory employment is seeing support from both sides of the aisle.

In fact, nearly all of the Democratic hopefuls for the 2020 presidential bid have been in contact with Darity’s team. This includes officials from the offices of senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley. Republican Kevin Hassett, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, has also expressed support for the idea. In Cory Booker’s case, he’s even designed and put forth a pilot program with help from Darity.

At Duke, Darity’s job is to direct its Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, an interdisciplinary research engine tackling a host of inequality issues. “The Cook Center’s mission is to do systematic and rigorous research about policy issues, and then be able to effectively communicate that to the largest community that we can reach,” says Darity.

Recently, its work has seen increased reach with every new report published. In 2017, Politico Magazine selected Darity and his former graduate student and now frequent collaborator, Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics and urban policy at The New School, as a duo on its top 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics.”

Astoundingly, the federal jobs guarantee is just one of the big ideas that Darity is pushing forward with the Cook Center. He and his colleagues have been prolific in launching solutions to inequality, any one of which could cause a tectonic shift in the socioeconomic fabric of America.

How Darity Came to Define a New Sub-Field of Economics

In 1970, Sandy Darity is an incoming freshman at Brown University. Two years before he gets there, the Poor People’s Campaign, a part of the civil rights movement, has a radical idea. Led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, their idea is to secure a Second Bill of Rights. It’s a set of values guaranteed by law that will help all Americans achieve economic freedom in their pursuit of happiness.

And, as it turns out, the idea isn’t altogether new.

It’s an idea that Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, the first black recipient of a Ph.D. in economics, worked on with President Harry Truman for his construction of the Fair Deal in 1949. An idea, before that, that served as the opening plank of President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposed Second or Economic Bill of Rights, announced in his State of the Union address in 1944. An idea so All-American that it takes Darity with such force – like it did King and his wife Coretta Scott – that it quietly consumes Darity’s scholarly efforts for the next five decades.

In his studies at Brown, Darity is exposed to the theory of human capital. It defines a person’s economic value as the sum total of the attributes that affect that person’s ability to perform labor – including their health, education and even creativity.

But Darity’s life experiences reveal gaps in this theory: Summers visiting his grandmother’s family in Wilson, North Carolina, where the railroad tracks divided the city like a spine into two neighborhoods on racial lines. Years spent abroad in the Middle East, when his father worked for the World Health Organization, where the Egyptian beaches looked different based on the income of the communities who had access to them. These memories define his early efforts to understand economics in the context of an unforgiving world.

Darity graduates from Brown with this conflict of theory and actuality in his head the same year that Hank Aaron calmly breaks Babe Ruth’s Major League Baseball home run record under pressure and threat of violence. (The two are to meet decades later, connected through their joint charge for human rights at the Cook Center.) For graduate school, Darity goes on to study at MIT, the world’s preeminent graduate program in economics. He’s part of a group that pushes the department to its highest representation of black American graduate students, which hasn’t been surpassed to this day.

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