October 09, 2020

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In the past six months, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and the federal government has provided more than $400 billion in unemployment benefits. With states pressed to pay for the epic costs of coronavirus, what if there was a more efficient way to get support to those out of work? What if we could save money while guaranteeing jobs?

According to Pavlina Tcherneva, associate professor of economics at Bard College and author of “The Case for a Job Guarantee,” there’s a way to do exactly that. It would be cheaper — and better all-around for job seekers — to ensure across-the-board access to employment rather than unemployment checks, she says. But does the math really add up?

Three Takeaways:

  • We have two choices, according to Tcherneva: to guarantee unemployment or to guarantee employment. Both require spending, but Tcherneva says it’s far less expensive to establish a federal program supplying “basic jobs that folks can take when they need them.” Even while ensuring a minimum wage of $15/hour for more than 11 million Americans, she says a job guarantee program would cost a fraction of today’s unemployment spending.
  • There’s a common understanding in macroeconomics, Tcherneva says, that around 5% of people should remain unemployed at all times in order to maintain low inflation. But instances when we’ve dipped below that 5% margin — without economic damage — show it’s not that cut-and-dried. She says it might be possible to have the best of both worlds.
  • Losing a job is more than losing an income — there is “also the psychological effect,” Tcherneva explains.  Steady employment brings a sense of dignity and community recognition. A basic job bank, she says, could combat the social isolation and upheaval of unemployment, all while transitioning people back into the labor market.

More Reading:

  • In the 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” to address the “realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” But that’s just the start of the long, strange history of the American jobs guarantee. The New Republic has more here.
  • A poll conducted by Harris/HillTV in 2019 showed that a majority of Americans are in support of a federal jobs program — over 70%. Check out the details of the poll here.
  • It’s clear that unemployment numbers have risen greatly during the pandemic, but this Marketplace article does a great job explaining what the numbers mean. This piece has more details on why the job market has been so tumultuous.
  • Other countries have implemented large-scale job solutions. Tcherneva says one program in rural India has shown real promise — read more about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act here.

jobs, economy, Pavlina Tcherneva, unemployment

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