I was interested to see what David Dayen had to say about a federal guaranteed jobs program in his article in The Nation. I think a well-designed guaranteed jobs program has potential. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what he has in mind:
The Center for American Progress has been a White House in waiting for mainstream Democratic candidates for over a decade now. When it places something on the agenda, that becomes part of mainstream discussion on the center left. And at its Ideas Conference this week, it embraced one idea that has been kicking around the left for a long time: guaranteed employment for anyone who wants a job.
In “Toward a Marshall Plan for America,” CAP frames this as an answer to growing despair and acute economic pain bred by stagnant wages and lack of opportunity. But few advocates who have been pushing a federal-job guarantee for so long were consulted or even cited in the proposal. And while they’re generally thrilled that their life’s work has entered a broader conversation, they’re concerned that something is getting lost in translation.
So, for example, from my point of view prerequisites include that the plan be set up in the context of serious workplace immigration enforcement and that the plan replace other forms of welfare rather be being piled on top of them.
Issues that surround such a plan include
- Who is “anyone”?
- What kinds of jobs would be offered?
- What would the jobs pay?
- What would happen in the event of non-attendance or non-performance?
Alternatives in to whom the jobs would be available would seem to be a) American citizens or b) American citizens and legal immigrants. The former would be less costly but counter-productive. In some communities a very high proportion of legal immigrants, particularly refugees, are unemployed.
I found Mr. Dayen’s proposal for the sorts of jobs that would be offered dismaying:
What kinds of jobs would be created? CAP suggests that home health care, child care, and teaching aides are all urgently needed.
I won’t belabor you by reaching into today’s newspaper for examples of the many horrific cases of elder or child abuse to be found among the very groups who would be likely candidates for such a program. Suffice it to say that I think the qualifications for home health care, child care, and teaching aides exceed being otherwise unemployable. At the very least we should demand good intentions which goes against the idea of a guaranteed job.
I fear his other proposal will be politically impossible:
It also cites infrastructure investment for job creation–roads and bridges, but also schools and hospitals.
I predict that there would be deep union opposition to guaranteed construction jobs unless they were union jobs and equally vehement opposition to federal subsidies for increasing the number of union jobs among Republicans.
A median income of $30,000 per year (Mr. Dayen’s proposed $15/hour—a backdoor $15 minimum wage) would be a pretty nice income in Yazoo City, Mississippi or Hindman, Kentucky. It wouldn’t even be a living wage in New York City. That disparity alone suggests that any workable plan would need to be administered via bloc grants to the states, given with substantial flexibility. Too low a pay rate would make the plan irrelevant. To high a pay rate would make it impossible to find workers to take jobs that weren’t administered through the jobs program.
I also wonder about non-attendance or other non-performance. If there are no consequences for simply collecting a pay check without ever showing up for the “job”, how would the plan differ from an outright handout?
Presently, 17% of the U. S. workforce is comprised of immigrants, mostly illegal. All in all it seems to me that the wage and employment effects of serious workplace immigration enforcement would obviate any need for a guaranteed jobs program.