The Job Guarantee

A job guarantee would enable communities to create jobs that fit the skills of local workers.

The reaction to Jesse Myerson’s Rolling Stone piece “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For” went beyond anyone’s expectation. Many conservative commentators shouted their disgust at his proposals (though not all may have read them), evoking the specter of Soviet breadlines and gulags. But beyond those circles, the article sparked a valuable conversation and even significant backing among Myerson’s target audience of “Millennials.”

A job guarantee was at the top of his list — something that capitalists should indeed fear and struggling young workers are right to support.

Millions of people in the United States are out of work. Of those fortunate enough to be employed, how many stay in jobs they despise, exploited by management or doing unconscionable work, because they feel they have no choice? How many are struggling to support themselves on unlivable wages or juggling multiple jobs just to get by — at the same time crucial public services get cut, local infrastructure decays, and people’s basic needs go unfilled?

A federally-funded, locally-administered job guarantee could change all this almost immediately.

Myerson cites economist Pavlina Tcherneva of the Levy Institute to describe how this program might work. The video above condenses a lecture by Tcherneva explaining what a job guarantee is, its economic impact, and what we can learn from her research on the Jefes (“Heads of Households”) Program in Argentina.

The Jefes Program, in addition to driving an employment-led economic recovery, had radical social and political implications — so radical, the Argentine government had to shut it down. Many of the jobs created were proposed and organized by the workers themselves, and women were particularly empowered. Through Jefes, care work was valorized — and, in some cases like daycare, collectivized.

A job guarantee would enable local communities to create jobs that fit the skills of local workers and meet their needs — needs which the private sector may never find profitable enough to fulfill. Workers would then have the choice to refuse exploitative or unconscionable work in favor of better public service employment. This shift of power from private owners to employees would be a significant victory en route to even deeper transformations.

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