The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the United States to the brink of economic collapse, and the country is currently months into its worst economic moment since the Great Depression. One solution to escape this downturn is to return to the types of policies advanced during the New Deal era and establish a federal jobs guarantee program in America.
While the CARES Act provided some temporary relief in the spring of 2020, sustained economic recovery requires a plan to give unemployed workers an opportunity to support themselves and their families with dignity. In this paper, the authors argue that federal jobs programs–an idea with a historical precedent in the U.S. dating to the 1940s–can help eliminate working poverty and not just restore the pre-recession economy but foster a more stable and inclusive version of it. In particular, they state that Congress should establish a program that provides a true public option for employment and gives existing workers, most notably those confined to the low end of the labor market, jobs in projects that will serve the public welfare.
Provide a permanent public option for workers to receive training, living wages, benefits, better working conditions, and full worker rights, as a true alternative to the private job market;
Invest in projects that benefit the public, such as caregiving (especially child and elder care); the conservation of natural resources; the creation of emergency relief programs; investments in education, health, and culture; and the building of critical infrastructure; and
Offer a better response to economic crises like the pandemic by eliminating the need for poorly paid and unsafe employment.
Recent polls suggest that such a program has strong bipartisan support, with a majority of surveyed Democrats and Republicans saying they would support a federal job guarantee program as part of the government’s response to the economic crisis. In total, sixty-four percent of likely voters show support for a federal job guarantee program, with twenty-nine percent saying they would “strongly support” the idea.
The concept of the federal government providing employment for all who wanted it has historic precedent in the United States dating back to the New Deal. Politicians had begun developing and stating their support for similar plans prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current moment provides an opportunity for greater investment in much-needed public work while also fostering an equitable, secure, and inclusive economy.
Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity Duke University