For a Constitutional Right to a Job at a Living Wage


 

This article is written up from notes used in a speech to the Yale Political Union at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, on October 27, 2009. It was part of their debate on the question, “Resolved: Government Should Employ the Unemployed.” The resolution was approved by a vote of 30 in favor, 26 opposed, and 5 abstaining.

 

I speak in favor of this resolution provided we understand that we are talking about voluntary employment, not any system of forced labor. Let’s not oppose this resolution by invoking the Poor Houses of past eras, or prison labor, or gulags, or re-education camps, or chain gangs, or other such red herrings. No one is advocating that kind of government employment. We are talking about voluntary labor as an enforceable right, with government being the employer of last resort. Private jobs are good, but public jobs are necessary to insure full employment.

 

Public jobs should also be at living wages. I am not speaking of public jobs that pay poverty wages that would keep a worker and his or her family falls below self-sufficiency at a simple, but dignified standard of living. We must couple public jobs to living wages, as President Roosevelt demanded in his statement upon signing the National Industrial Recovery Act into law in June 1933, a bill designed to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in public works:

 

“No business which depends for its existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country…. and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of decent living.”

 

When the resolution says, Government Should Employ the Unemployed, let us take it to mean, Government Should Guarantee the Right to a Job at a Living Wage.

 

The resolution before us could not be more timely. We are in the midst of what the pundits now call the Great Recession. It is the biggest employment crisis since the Great Depression. We are being told that jobs will be the lagging indicator as we are come out of the Great Recession, that it will be a jobless recovery that creates a “new normal” of higher unemployment. And we are being told to get used to it by much of the financial press and even politically connected leaders like Larry Summers, Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council.

 

The Obama Administration’s economic stimulus package will only “save or create” three million jobs if it plays out according to plan over two years. That is only a fraction of the eight million jobs that have been lost so far since the start of the recession, not to mention the 22 million more jobs that are needed to employ every adult in America willing and able to work fulltime. The stimulus package includes federal spending and grants to states to slow the loss of existing public jobs. The rest is indirect stimulus, through either tax breaks for consumers and businesses and spending through private contractors. There is no program of public jobs, no direct government employment in new jobs in public works and services, the kind of program we are considering in the resolution, Government Should Employ the Unemployed.

 

The Problem Affects “one-third of a nation”

 

When we consider the two-fold nature of the problem – unemployment and poverty wages – we find that some 60 million workers are affected: 30 million unemployed and 30 more million low-wage workers who work full-time but remain in poverty. Well over 100 million people – one-third of our nation – are affected counting these workers and their dependents.

 

The September 2009 employment report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics found 15.1 million people, or 9.8 percent of the total workforce, were unemployed by the bureau’s narrowest standard. That standard is the “official unemployment” number we get in the mass media.

 

However, by the bureau’s broadest standard of unemployment, another 15.1 million workers, 9.8 percent of the total workforce, suffered some level of unemployment. This so-called “hidden unemployment” included 9.2 million workers seeking full time work but finding only part time work. It also included 5.9 million “discouraged workers” who want jobs but were not looking at the time of the survey because they could not find jobs, although 2.2 million of these discouraged workers had searched for work in the previous 12 months and were available to work. The BLS reported that there were 12 “job-wanters” for every job opening, an all-time high.

 

All told, 30.2 million workers, or 18.9 percent of the nation’s labor force, were unemployed or underemployed during the week of the bureau’s survey in September. And this does take account of the reduction in hours suffered by the full-time employed, whose average workweek fell to 33 hours, a record low.

 

We must add to this another approximately 30 million workers who were working fulltime but earning poverty level wages. 30 million workers are more than one in five workers in America. Most of them are not young workers in entry-level jobs. Nearly two-thirds of them are over 26 years old.

 

The standard of poverty I am using here is a true measure of poverty as most people understand it, not the official poverty line of the US government. Public opinion polls show that large majorities of Americans believe that one breaks through the poverty threshold when one reaches self-sufficiency, meaning sufficient income to support a family and pay its bills for a no-frills budget for food, housing, clothing, utilities, transportation, child care, health care, and taxes without any public subsidies, such as food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid, or welfare.

 

The official poverty line is about half of what a self-sufficiency standard of poverty would be. The official poverty line was set in the mid 1960s as three times a minimal food budget designed for temporary survival, not long term health. Since food budgets were about one-third of household budgets at that time, the poverty level was determined by multiplying that minimal food budget by three.

 

In the intervening decades, the inflation in housing, energy, and health care prices have been much greater than food prices. Today, food is one-fifth of the typical household budget, making the official poverty line even more inadequate. When one multiplies today’s minimal food budget by five instead of three to determine the current poverty line, the poverty line rises to 165 percent of the official poverty line. By this measure, the proportion of American’s living in poverty has increased from the low 20s to the high 20s in percentage.

 

Recent studies to determine a self-sufficiency standard for a realistic poverty line conducted by the Economic Self-Sufficiency Project and by the Economic Policy Institute found it to be twice the official poverty line. These economic analyses correspond to many surveys that show most Americans the income needed for a basic, no-frills family budget to live above poverty is about twice income of the official poverty line.

 

Using the self-sufficiency standard, we find by conservative estimate that over 100 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed, and low-wage workers or their dependents. That is one-third of our nation. In January 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt said in his Second Inaugural Address:

 

“In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens – a substantial part of its whole population – who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life. I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day…. I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

 

Unfortunately, these words still describe the situation in America today for one-third of its people.

 

The Moral Case for Full Employment

 

We have established that unemployment and poverty wages are a problem. The next question is: Do we have an obligation to do something about it? The moral case for action is very strong and very much in line with broadly held American values.

 

In making the moral case for full employment, Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans and author of Ending Poverty As We Know It: Guaranteeing the Right to a Job at a Living Wage, asks us to consider two questions:

 

Do you think that every adult who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so?

 

Do you think that every person who works full-time should earn enough to be self-supporting?

 

If you answer yes to both questions, you are like the overwhelming majority of Americans who believe in the Work Ethic and the American Dream. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that people who work full time should be able to support a family and build a future.

 

If you answered yes to both questions, then you have agreed with most of the proposition that we are considering. You have agreed that:

 

Every adult who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so.

 

Every adult who works full-time should also be able to support his or her family.

 

All that remains for you to agree with the whole proposition is that you agree government should guarantee these two rights. It is not the rights themselves that are controversial for most Americans. It is the role of government in securing economic rights that is controversial in our society.

 

Full Employment Advocacy Is An American Tradition

 

The idea in the American political tradition that government should guarantee not only the political rights in the Bill of Rights, but also social and economic rights, including the right to a job and a livable income, finds its most prominent early expression in the writings of Thomas Paine. In 1791 in his Rights of Man, Paine laid out a program of government guaranteed employment. Though the immediate reason for the book was a defense of the French Revolution against Edmund Burke’s attack in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Paine was writing for an international audience in support of the democratic revolution of his age. Indeed, he dedicated the book to George Washington with a note about how the democratic revolution in the new world would also renew the old world.

 

The c alls by Paine and others from the Revolutionary era in support of government policies to promote jobs and economic justice were carried forward in the diverse but generally allied movements of antebellum reformers – abolitionists, suffragists, free soilers, trade unionists, cooperators, and communitarians. These reformers saw society as divided between the producers, including farmers, artisans, and manufacturers and their workers, and the parasites, including the landed aristocracy, particularly slave owners, and the big banks who enriched themselves with “unearned” interest income from the debts of the producing classes.

 

In the post civil war period, successive waves of Grangers, Greenbackers, Knights of Labor, Populists, and Socialists continued to put forward demands for government guaranteed employment through the years of Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era. It was not until Great Depression of the 1930s that guaranteed employment and living wages were seriously considered by the federal government.

 

The New Deal enacted a series of direct government employment programs. The Civil Works Administration (CWA) of 1933-34 put 4 million people to work beginning the first winter of Roosevelt’s administration building roads, schools, parks, and airports. Parallel to the CWA was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) of 1933-35, which not only employed people in public works construction, but also put people to work in “production for use” projects in gardens and idle shops and factories that provided needed goods to people which private industry was not providing, though private industry loudly complained that their business was being supplanted by “socialist” enterprises. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) took over from CWA and FERA in the federal provision of public jobs. The WPA lasted until 1943, employing 20 million in its peak year and developing with state and local governments employment projects in nearly every locality in the country.

 

The CWA, FERA, and WPA were enacted as temporary work relief programs to deal with the unemployment emergency of the Great Depression. Meanwhile, President Roosevelt and especially his labor secretary, Frances Perkins, pushed Congress to establish a permanent Employment Assurance Program where government would guarantee the right to a job by being the employer of last resort. The original Social Security Act proposal included the Employment Assurance Program where public jobs would be available to the unemployed once their unemployment benefits were exhausted. The Employment Assurance Program would have combined government stimulation of job creation through monetary, fiscal, and public investment policies with government provision of public jobs for those who were still unemployed. But the Employment Assurance Program, along with a single-payer National Health Insurance proposal, were cut from the final Social Security Act that passed Congress in 1935 due the resistance of southern Dixiecrats, conservative Republicans, and business interests who wanted slack labor markets to keep wages down.

 

Fearing a return to depression economics after the stimulus of the World War II effort ended, Congress and both major parties returned to consideration of a full employment program in 1944. Roosevelt kicked off the year in his State of the Union address with a call for an Economic Bill of Rights, including the right to a job and a living wage. The 1944 platforms adopted by both the Democratic and Republican parties called for policies to ensure full employment. Both of their standard bearers, Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey, campaigned in vigorous favor of the policy. Following the election, a Full Employment Bill was introduced in 1945, which provided for public stimulation of jobs in the private sector, with back up provision of public jobs for those still unemployed. But after Dixiecrats, conservatives, and business interests weighed in, it was passed as simply the Employment Bill of 1946. The Employment Bill gave us the Council of Economic Advisors and their annual report to the president on how to create “maximum employment” through stimulation of the private economy, but not “full employment” through a public jobs program.

 

Though the Democrats kept a rhetorical commitment to full employment in their platforms of the 1950s and 1960s, they made little effort to move on it. The post-war economic boom kept unemployment well below Depression era levels. From 1945 to 1970, the middle-income working class shared in the growth of the economy. The poor, however, were stuck at the bottom in urban ghettoes and depressed rural areas. President Johnson’s War on Poverty, with its emphasis on education and training, assumed that poverty was more due to a lack of skills of the poor than to a lack of opportunities built into the structure of the economy. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Martin Luther King called upon the movement to focus on economic rights, a focus already implicit in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In his last book, Where Do We Go From Here? (1967), King discussed the structural economic reasons for unemployment and poverty and renewed FDR’s call for an Economic Bill of Rights, including the right to a job and a living wage. King’s last major campaign of nonviolent direct action was the Poor People’s Campaign, which intended to bring coalition of poor people and their allies from all ethnic backgrounds to protest and nonviolently disrupt Washington until Congress came through with a program of jobs for all, living wages, and decent income support for those unable to work.

 

The efforts of King and others did have some impact. In response to the recession of 1969-1970, the Republican President, Richard Nixon, and the Democratic majority Congress agreed upon a public jobs program with the Emergency Employment Act of 1971, which established a Public Employment Program that employed 12 percent of the unemployed at its peak. This program was followed by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) of 1974. Both programs emphasized public service jobs, not public works jobs. In 1978, President Carter and the Democratic Congress changed CETA from public jobs to jobs with private contractors. In 1982, President Reagan allowed CETA to expire and replaced it with the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), which used federal funds in grants to states to provide job-related training, counseling and other services primarily to youths, including very limited numbers of summer jobs.

 

In the meantime in the mid-1970s, another serious attempt to legislate full employment with the government as the employer of last resort was considered by Congress. It was popularly known as the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill for its principal sponsors, Hubert Hemphrey (D-MN) in the Senate and Rep. Gus Hawkins (D-CA) in the House. When Hawkins introduced the bill to the House in 1976, it was called the Full Employment Act. Hawkins said that the right to a public job when a private job was not available should be an enforceable right of citizenship, not an emergency relief program that kicked in when unemployment passed a certain percentage. But by the time legislation was adopted in 1978, it was renamed Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act. It simply urged that the administration to pursue “balanced growth,” which meant maximizing employment only to the point where it would not trigger inflation. In other words, it legitimated the policy of the next 30 years of keeping unemployment up to keep inflation low.

 

As Humphrey-Hawkins was implemented by the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations, the focus was on controlling inflation with little attention to job creation and no significant public jobs program. Indeed, during the Clinton years, the rhetoric was “reinventing government,” which meant privatizing many government services and reducing the federal payroll by over 350,000 on the civilian side and another 650,000 on the military side with private contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater. The welfare reform of 1996 required welfare recipients to work for less than minimum wages for their benefits and pushed millions of unskilled workers into the low-wage job market. Welfare-to-work funding in the reform provided job search assistance and wage subsidy tax credits to employers, but covered only a fraction of those pushed off the welfare rolls. The result was a strong downward pressure on wages in the low-wage labor market.

 

Since the watering down of the Humphrey-Hawkins bill over its 1976-1978 journey through Congress, no movement has been able to put full employment at living wages back on the national political agenda. In 1987, a small network of community and labor activists and academics formed the National Jobs for All Coalition. While producing many valuable books and papers, they have not been able to mobilize a national movement. However, now, in the midst of the employment crisis of the Great Recession, they hope to spark a new movement. They have called a National Conference to Create Living-Wage Jobs for All, Meet Human Needs, and Sustain the Environment for New York City on November 13 and 14 (www.njfac.org).

 

The Laissez Faire Counter-Tradition

 

America also has a long tradition of laissez faire economics, which argues that government intervention in market outcomes is always, or almost always, counterproductive. We have all heard the slogans. “Aid to the poor breeds lazy dependency.” “Welfare undermines the work ethic.” “Public expenditures squeeze out private investment and economic growth.” “Full employment through government action will instigate a wage-price spiral of inflation.”

 

For contemporary neoliberals as for their unabashedly reactionary 19th century laissez faire forebears, about all the government should do economically is protect private property and provide courts where commercial disputes can be resolved peacefully. Some even claim that government economic intervention is unconstitutional, that the constitution only protects political rights and should not protect economic rights. We hear this claim today coming most prominently from the Fox News/Talk Radio region of the Right, which is incessantly whining that there is no constitutional authority for the economic interventions of the Obama administration, no matter how conventional and in keeping with previous administrations they have been.

 

Let us quickly dispose of this absurd constitutional objection to government guaranteeing the right to a job at a living wage. The US Constitution’s Preamble says it is established in order to, among other purposes, “promote the general Welfare.” Article I, Section 8 empowers Congress to “provide for the … general Welfare” and to intervene in economic affairs with the powers to tax, borrow, create money, and regulate commerce. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote to Rev. F.C. Schaeffer in 1820: “To provide employment for the poor, and support for the indigent, is among the primary, and, at the same time, not least difficult cares of the public authority.”

 

The real issue is not whether it is constitutional to guarantee jobs and living wages, but whether it is good government and economic policy. It is not necessary here to take apart the long, tortuous rationalizations of the economic Right for why government intervention is bad and for why the “invisible hand” of the market will produce the optimum outcome in all cases. You just have to look at the world around you. It is an overwhelmingly capitalist world economy with little government intervention to secure full employment except for a few notable exceptions we will examine shortly.

 

In this capitalist world economy, most estimates of the level of unemployment and underemployment in the world’s labor force place it at upwards of 30 percent. Five billion people – 80% of humanity – live on less than $10 a day. The income gap has widened steadily throughout the capitalist era of the last 500 years and especially during its dominance in the last 200 years. A 1999 Human Development Report by the UN Development Program estimates the ratios of income between the richest and poorest countries over the last two centuries:

 

3 to 1 in 1820

 

11 to 1 in 1913

 

35 to 1 in 1950

 

44 to 1 in 1973

 

72 to 1 in 1992

 

The problems of unemployment and poverty are persistent because they are systemic in a capitalist economy. Capitalist economies on their own, without government policies to provide full employment, have never provided full employment.

 

Yet despite the persistence of unemployment and poverty and a long tradition of full employment advocacy dating back to the American Revolution, government in the United States has only considered, but never committed, to providing a job for every adult willing and able to work.

 

The issue has not even been on the national agenda since the late 1970s when national economic policy took a sharp right turn toward a neoliberal policy of tax breaks and deregulation. The intention was to encourage business investment in hopes that the benefits of business expansion would trickle down to the working class in the form of jobs and good wages. The actual result has been a financialization of the economy, where the portion of profits in the economy going to financial services went from less than 10 percent to over 40 percent by the mid-2000s. Finding excess industrial capacity, the wealthy poured their increased funds from lower high-end tax rates and tax breaks into financial speculation, the re-arrangement of assets rather than the creation of new assets by investment in productive facilities. Industrial capacity utilization has now fallen to 60 percent. There are few profitable investment opportunities in productive industries. Without government intervention, it is going to take many years for existing capacity to wear out and require new productive investment. In other words, our economy faces long-term stagnation without government intervention.

 

The policy emphasis of the Obama administration, however, has been more of the same. The big banks were bailed out while the auto industry, which could have been converted to the production of electric vehicles, mass transit, and renewable energy generators, was downsized as a matter of policy. The economic stimulus package was limited to small tax breaks for consumers, money for state and local governments to reduce cutbacks of their workers, and a set of economic investments and incentives for certain industries that was relatively small given the scale of the shortfall in demand in the economy. It was not a clear departure from the neoliberal policies of recent decades. No money in the stimulus was allocated for direct government employment in public works and services. All the stimulus investments go to private contractors.

 

Does all this mean we must have a socialist economy to have full employment? I would love to come back to the Yale Political Union to debate the question of capitalism versus socialism, but we do not need to take a position on that question here. We just need to note that there have been capitalist economies that have used public policy to promote close to zero unemployment. From the 1950s through 1980s, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Austria in particular employed what they called “active labor market policies” to keep their unemployment rates to 2 percent and under. These policies included fiscal, monetary, and investment policies, backed up by public jobs programs. Unemployment rose to the higher levels of recent decades in these countries only after conservative governments were elected to power and chose to raise unemployment in hopes of stemming inflation.

 

Which brings us to the most influential economic argument against full employment: the claim that it will cause inflation. But the supposed inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation does not stand up to the facts. Think of the “stagflation” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when both unemployment and prices rose. Think of the late 1990s, when both unemployment and prices remained low. Without diverting off into a long critique of the economic theories behind the single-minded inflation obsession of US economic policy over the last 40 years, let us just let the facts cited refute them and acknowledge that the proper problem for economic policy makers to address is how to best pursue a broad agenda of economic growth, price stability, and full employment.

 

Fiscal Feasibility

 

One economic problem is worth examining in some detail given our soaring federal deficit: Is a policy of full employment with government as the employer of last resort fiscally feasible?

 

In his book Securing the Right to Employment, Phillip Harvey, a professor of law and economics at Rutgers University, provides a budget and analysis that concludes that a full employment program could pay for itself, or even generate a net income for the government. Harvey examined the fiscal feasibility of full employment through public jobs for the years 1977-1986, a period of high unemployment and therefore a period of maximum fiscal impact for a public jobs program. He found that the savings from tax receipts (income, Social Security, Medicare) covered 20 percent of the program and the savings from reduced income assistance to the unemployed and their dependents (unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid, welfare) covered 60 percent of the program. Another cost of unemployment that could be recovered is the lost production of that unused labor. By generating income from the sale of goods and services produced by workers employed by the public works program, the program could generate the remaining 20 percent to fully pay for itself, or more to generate a surplus for the government. Harvey also noted further costs of unemployment that the public jobs program would reduce, including crime, incarceration, sickness and family break-ups due the stresses of unemployment, and lost economic growth from the lost demand of unemployed workers.

 

The Congressional Budget Office used to provide another useful analysis, which quantified the fiscal cost of unemployment annually. In the last of its annual analyses of this cost in 1996, the CBO found that every one percent rise in unemployment cost the federal government $70 billion in lost tax revenues and increased income-assistance benefits. To get rough idea of the impact today, multiply that $70 billion by 10 for today’s 10 percent official unemployment, and you get a cost of $700 billion, close to the total $787 billion cost of the Obama economic stimulus package.

 

Given our federal government’s fiscal problems, these analyses show that a policy of full employment through public jobs when private jobs are not available is not only fiscally feasible, it could help reduce the fiscal crisis of the state.

 

Implementation

 

The Employment Assurance Program proposed for the original Social Security Act still provides the basic framework of a full employment policy: a mixed public and private system of government stimulation of private sector job creation, backed up by government provision of public jobs for those who still remain unemployed.

 

However, policies change relatively easily with changing political winds. If we agree that every adult who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so and that every adult who works full-time should also be able to support his or her family, then we ought to establish these rights in the US Constitution. The founders recognized that changing times would require a changing Constitution, lest we be bound by our “barbarous ancestors,” as Thomas Jefferson put in advocating for the right of every generation to amend the Constitution. Constitutional amendment is how we secured free speech, abolition of slavery, and women’s suffrage.

 

A constitutional amendment securing the right to a job at a living wage will compel all branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial – to adopt policies that implement that constitutional right. And the citizens will have the right to go to court to compel the government to act if it does not act on its own to fulfill this right. A constitutional amendment will establish the right as a goal and leave room for experimentation and the inevitable mistakes, corruption, and human follies without losing our basic commitment to jobs for all at living wages.

 

A public employment program that is funded by the federal government and administered by local government has much to recommend it. This arrangement would combine the efficiency and progressivity of centralized federal tax collection with the efficacy and responsiveness of local administration of the program. Local governments, mainly counties and metropolitan agencies, would develop standby plans for employing unused labor to meet unmet needs as defined by local communities. As unemployment in the private sector rose, these plans would be put into affect with federal funding to employ the unemployed in public works and services.

 

There is plenty of work to that needs to be done in energy conversion, infrastructure renewal, urban renewal, and public services.

 

The need for conversion of our energy system is an emergency owing to twin crises of catastrophic climate change and the peaking of oil production. Declining oil production will yield soaring prices and supply shortfalls that will grind our economy to a standstill if we don’t build alternative energy systems. Climate scientists now argue that we must stabilize carbon in the atmosphere at below 350 parts per million (ppm) in order to avoid a tipping point beyond which it is impossible to stop catastrophic global heating. We are now at 384 ppm, up from 280 ppm in the pre fossil fuel era.

 

These twin crises call for a World War II scale mobilization of resources to convert to zero-carbon, renewable energy sources and to restore the carbon absorption capacities of forests, soils, and oceans. One such conversion scenario is Plan B of Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Institute, which calls for a crash program to avert catastrophic climate change by reducing net carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2020 through renewable energy and reforestation. Another plan is presented in the November 2009 cover story for Scientific American. This plan lays out a scenario for converting to a worldwide, zero-carbon, and 100 percent renewable energy system from wind, water, and solar power by 2030. The investment would cost $100 trillion worldwide, but the long-run net savings would be greater than the costs of sticking with the fossil fuel, nuclear, and biomass energy sources dominant today. Ross Gelbspan, a Pulitzer Prize winning former reporter and editor at the Boston Globe and Washington Post, brought retired energy company executives, economics, and energy policy experts at Harvard in 1998 to develop a World Energy Modernization Plan for converting to renewable energy sources to avert global warming. As Gelbspan noted in discussing this plan in his book, Boiling Point, “The real economic issue is whether the world has a big enough labor force to accomplish this task in time to meet nature’s deadline.”

 

The 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a grade of D and said it would take $2.2 trillion in public investment over the next five years to repair existing infrastructure such as roads, railroads, mass transit systems, water and sewer systems, schools, and parks. These construction projects have a much higher multiplier effect in creating more jobs and business than public service jobs. But there is plenty of work to do providing human services, from health, child, elder, and long-term care to staffing schools, libraries, and youth recreation programs. There is plenty of work to do and many urgent needs to meet.

 

Summation

 

Two goods flow from the American Dream and the Work Ethic:

 

1. Every adult who wants to work should have the opportunity to do so.

2. Every adult who works full-time should also be able to support his or her family.

 

The question then is how to realize these goods.

 

The private economy, on its own, has never provided full employment at living wages.

 

Only government can provide jobs for the unemployed through a mixed public and private system of stimulation of private jobs, supplemented by the provision of public jobs for those who remain unemployed.

 

That is the only way to realize rights we value: the right to work and the right to a living wage for your work.

 

Therefore, you should vote in favor of the resolution: Government Should Employ the Unemployed.

 

Howie Hawkins is a Teamster and Green Party activist in Syracuse, New York.

 

Additional information