The Problem With a Federal Jobs Guarantee (Hint: It’s Not the Price Tag)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018
The Wall Street Journal

But the big thinkers behind the federal jobs guarantee have their eyes on a bigger prize. That 4.1% only represents the 6.6 million who are unemployed under the Labor Department’s official definition. Another 5.1 million don’t meet it but want a job, and 5 million work part time because they can’t find full-time work. Eradicating these last vestiges of un- or underemployment “would fundamentally transform the current labor market,” write Mark Paul, William Darity and Darrick Hamilton in a paper for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-of-center think tank. Their proposal, which forms the basis of Mr. Sanders’s bill, would “significantly alter the current power dynamics between labor and capital” by forcing all employers to match the federal standards for pay and benefits.

Yes, a job guarantee would cost a fortune, but ignoring the obvious political impediments, the price tag isn’t the catastrophe some critics claim. To hire all the official and unofficial unemployed and half the involuntary part timers at $15 an hour plus $3 an hour for benefits would cost around $450 billion, or 2.3% of gross domestic product. The actual cost could be much lower: Many of the unemployed won’t take up the federal offer because they expect to get something better, don’t like what’s being offered, or face some sort of obstacle (family, disability, etc.).

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