Imagine a society where the government guarantees a job to every citizen who wants one, dramatically reducing homelessness, poverty and racial disparities in the labor market. Such a way is possible, argues Professor William “Sandy” Darity of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
Speaking to an audience that gathered on August 8 at the Citizens Engagement Lab in Oakland to listen to Darity speak via video-link as part of the Haas Institute’s Thinking Ahead series, the economist outlined his ambitious proposal for a federal job guarantee.
The purpose of the Thinking Ahead series is to bring together community members and thinkers to come up with ideas and offer propositions to tackle extreme inequality and end racial economic exclusion.
Darity’s plan proposes the formation of an agency he calls the National Investment Employment Corps to oversee the federal job guarantee program which would create a jobs bank based on a repository of employment needs tallied by states and municipalities.
Watch a video of Darity's talk below:
These jobs would include the repair and maintenance of the nation’s infrastructure, revamping the postal system, and providing universal child care. Everyone would be guaranteed a minimum salary of $23,000 a year, with the addition of health and other benefits, bringing annual compensation up to approximately $50,000.
“The premise here is that every American citizen should have the capacity to find work at decent pay. Any citizen who could not find work in the private sector would be able to find a quality job with the public sector…ensur[ing] a level of income above the poverty line,” Darity said.
The program would aim to address the disparities and injustices currently present in the labor market, in which certain populations face harsh barriers to entry, and where chronic underemployment is also a major issue.
Among the disparities, Darity pointed out that the rate of black unemployment persists at double that of whites. He also noted that while 40 to 50 percent of homeless individuals hold some type of job, the work available to them does not provide enough money to obtain housing.
“It’s obvious that there are high degrees of discrimination that operate in the American labor market and a way we can address this is to have a federal job guarantee for all American citizens which could make it possible to eliminate that unemployment rate differential,” he said.
While many in attendance welcomed Darity’s proposal and embraced the potential of its aims, their endorsements were coupled with some cautious skepticism and thoughtful critiques that prodded deeper into the limitations and possibilities of a full employment plan.
Participants in the discussion wanted to know if his concept would in fact measure up against the enormity of the challenge it was designed to solve. Would the baseline salary of $23,000 lift people out of the status of homelessness? What is the expected impact on undocumented immigrants if excluded from this opportunity? Others wanted to know how the program would interact with burgeoning industries like cannabis. Concerns were also expressed for exacerbating regional inequality in the scenario of a national base salary.
The questions raised did not cast doubt on the federal job guarantee proposal, but revealed a sense of confidence in its ability to solve joblessness if sharpened to a greater degree of specificity.
Darity’s responses to the audience’s questions moved his proposal forward and refined his points to meet the ideas and challenges that were raised, engendering greater optimism for his plan.
The job guarantee would “create a much tighter labor market which generally works to the advantage of groups that have historically been excluded,” he added, while offering a municipal version of his proposal to speak to the room’s focus on regional differences and issues of discrimination.
Attendees reimagined Darity’s plan with an eye toward tailoring his vision to their local needs. The room gleaned the potential held within the full employment plan to improve conditions in their neighborhoods and elevate those most afflicted.