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Nearly 70 years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed that everyone has the right to a job with decent wage, his message continues to ring true.

The economy of the 21st century remains mired in what seems to be an inescapable funk of unemployment and poorly paying jobs.

The Bush years flew by with a net jobs growth of virtually zero.

Our current employment outlook remains ugly:

• In September, unemployment was 7.3 percent, historically high for a period of recovery,

• Job growth was just 140,000 that month, significantly below what’s needed for a strong recovery,
• Wages have been flat for five years,

• A recent Wells Fargo survey found more than a third of Americans say they will have to work into their 80s because they won’t be able to afford to retire, and

• The labor participation rate—the percentage of people over 16 who either have a job or are seriously looking for one—fell to its lowest rate in 35 years in August.

Employment and Human Rights

“Full employment must be at the top of our political agenda,” said U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), whose House Resolution 1000 calls for a Wall Street transactions tax to fund jobs for 2.5 million to 4 million unemployed Americans. The New Deal-like program would aim to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure and strengthen communities.
“Good-paying jobs must be viewed as a human right,” Conyers said.
Conyers spoke at a gathering at Columbia University in New York City on Oct. 18 of nearly 200 scholars and activists to commemorate FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, which Roosevelt included in his 1944 State of the Union Address.

FDR considered the right to a job as the “paramount right.” The Economic Bill of Rights, which unfortunately never became law, called for guaranteed employment at a living wage, housing, medical care, education and old age security.

“We have never achieved the right to employment for all,” said Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, professor emerita of social policy at Adelphi University, a co-chair of The Columbia University Seminar on Full Employment, Social Welfare and Equity, which sponsored the conference to mark its 25th anniversary. Her comment underscored how reaching full unemployment would require building a social movement that questions the prevailing ideology and political winds of our society.
Direct Employment Programs

The stubbornness of unemployment following the most recent recession has led to a debate among economists over the acceptable level of joblessness, which was 5 percent before the downturn. The persistence of unemployment and perceived long-term structural barriers to improvement have led economists, Federal Reserve Bank officials and politicians to suggest that the acceptable rate should be higher.
But full employment advocates believe otherwise.

For instance, the Jobs for All Coalition, a sponsor of the conference, does not emphasize an unemployment rate as a target but believes the goal should be to ensure jobs for everyone who wants one. Full employment by that definition would be significantly below 5 percent.

Philip Harvey, a professor of law and economics at Rutgers University, said in an interview that unemployment would be negligible if the government had a comprehensive jobs program based on a philosophy that regarded the right to work as a matter of dignity.

Harvey proposes eliminating involuntary employment by establishing trust funds to allow state and local governments to create temporary public- sector jobs for the unemployed. The unemployment rate could be lowered by 3 percent if 4.5 million jobs were created through such trust funds, according to Harvey.

The federal government adopted direct employment programs during Great Depression (the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration). High unemployment in the 1970s led the U.S. Congress to create jobs through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.

“A federal job guarantee would not only restore dignity but also erode barriers to entry to the labor force, eliminating the threat of unemployment for all,” said Derrick Hamilton, associate professor of economics and urban policy at the Milano Graduate School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, part of The New School in New York City.
Hamilton proposes creating a National Investment Employment Corps that would support 15 million jobs with salaries ranging from $20,00 to $80,000. This job assurance (as opposed to insurance) program would significantly reduce anti-poverty expenditures.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank do more to encourage job creation, though he sees little hope that addressing unemployment would ever be as big a priority for the Fed as controlling inflation.

Baker also expressed support for a federal jobs sharing program similar to that of Germany’s. But he noted that states are failing to tap into federal funds available for that purpose. (Under work sharing, the government picks up a portion of the lost wages of workers whose hours are cut during a recession. The subsidy allows firms to reduce their payroll without laying off workers.)

For the 21st century, FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights would need to be updated to address the declining power of unions, which have nearly disappeared in the private sector. Along with the drop in the value of the minimum wage, globalization and labor-saving technology, the decline in union representation explains the erosion of wages in recent decades.

Sheila D. Collins, professor emerita of political science at Williams Paterson University, said FDR was deeply committed to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.

But she said that addressing environmental degradation today requires more far-reaching policies than during the New Deal years. The struggle for economic rights must be coupled with policies that promote a safe and sustainable environment on which all economic activity depends, according to Collins, who is a co-chair of the Columbia University seminar group.

Peter Marcuse, professor emeritus of urban planning at Columbia University, predicted that any full-blown mobilization by full-employment advocates would encounter strong opposition.

“I think we need to recognize that conflict is inevitable,” Marcuse said. “High unemployment lowers wages. It’s in an employer’s interest to cut wages and to cut jobs.”
A new morality

So, what are the political and other challenges facing a full unemployment movement?
Helen Lachs Ginsburg, professor emerita of economics, Brooklyn College, a co-chair of the Columbia seminar, said we need a new morality, one that values the dignity of work and doesn’t demonize the downtrodden who are jobless.

“We have to acknowledge that the current system is not just,” said William Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University, who, like Conyers, said the right to a job should be regarded as a human right.
Quigley cited Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” He also recalled that King said, “We need a radical redistribution of economic and political power…”
“The fact if that austerity or humanity is the question,” said Michael Lighty, director of public policy of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United.
The nurses union is campaigning for a “Robin Hood tax” that calls for a .5 percent tax on stock transactions. The tax could bring in more than $300 billion a year in extra revenue.
“This is a tax on the wealthy,” Lighty said. “We know a better world is possible and how to pay for it.”

Christopher Policano, communications director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said that progressives don't need to rely only on the mainstream media to try to reshape public debate. By tapping into social media, they can create a powerful “echo chamber” about their own agenda.
Occupy Wall Street (which made inequality part of the country’s political discourse), the AFL-CIO’s recent decision to expand its reach outside the formal labor movement and the media opening provided by MSNBC together are signs that the message of full-employment and economic rights advocates can resonate in the country, according to Policano.

Gary Dorrien, Reinhold Niebuhr professor of social Ethics at the Union Theological Seminary, said the progressive religious community would be key participants in a movement that fights for good jobs.

“Neo-liberalism needs to be discredited and a stake driven in its heart,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Gregory - I think you have a typo in your diary (0+ / 0-)

    In the section titled

    Direct Employment Programs

    Fourth paragraph, first line, currently reads
    " Harvey proposes eliminating involuntary employment......."

    I think you wanted it to say ".....involuntary unemployment.."

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Sat Nov 02, 2013 at 07:04:04 PM PDT

  •  According to Albert Einstein... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lawrence, Nattiq
    For the 21st century, FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights would need to be updated to address the declining power of unions, which have nearly disappeared in the private sector. Along with the drop in the value of the minimum wage, globalization and labor-saving technology, the decline in union representation explains the erosion of wages in recent decades.
    The greatest labor/wage hurdle that mankind will have to face is the new paradigm that income must be separated from work.

    Due to extreme productivity, robotics, and sophisticated automation -- there is really no need for so many workers. Just a few workers can produce all that consumers need.

    Understanding how to make that work while keeping everyone economically stabilized in the middle class requires a completely new way of thinking about society and civilization.

    "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
            -- Joshua, aka WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) automated nuclear-launch super-computer. "War Games," 1983.

    by Pluto on Sat Nov 02, 2013 at 07:04:47 PM PDT

    •  Indeed! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      We are moving into the second industrial revolution, which is driven by I.T. and robotics and accelerating at an ever greater pace.

      We absolutely need new concepts that go beyond this now thoroughly illusionary goal of full employment, because the only way to achieve full employment nowadays is if everyone works part-time.

      One idea whose time has come is a basic income for all.  Riseupeconomics wrote a diary about it which got far little too attention here, imo:

      "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

      by Lawrence on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:05:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's cool that you get this. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I've finally come to the realization that the concept is so steep (not everyone needs to be a worker to make a living) that most folks alive right now and reading this -- will never get there.

        But it is, of course, the only possible future.

        "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
                -- Joshua, aka WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) automated nuclear-launch super-computer. "War Games," 1983.

        by Pluto on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:28:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Apologies for the spelling mistakes in my post (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          above.  I forgot the proof-read.

          Some form of a Basic Income is a no-brainer, imo.  The older generations are going to have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept because they grew up in a world with a different paradigm, but I think that the younger generations will have an easier time grasping the concept and will end up demanding it, just like they are having a far easier time understanding that marriage equality and marijuana legalization are sensible.

          We can either move towards something that resembles a form of utopia, where everyone lives a decent life and does not have to be a slave to their work anymore, or we head into a dystopia where the capital/wealth owners and an ever decreasing pool of people who have a job are the haves and all those who have had their jobs automated away become the have-nots.

          "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

          by Lawrence on Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 05:48:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  You cant just squeeze the baloon animal like that! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If you put a tax on each stock transaction, then gazillionaires will just do less transactions, stagnating ownership in their hands and making shares less available for the little guy. Or they'll create holding companies that somehow, within the letter of whatever law is written, change ownership percentages without triggering the fee. Again, if you're just joe-schmoe investor without a squad of analysts and lawyers, you'll be getting the short end of the stick. Corporations, shareholders, and businesses are legal constructs that react rationally to whatever legal environment they are created in. To expect any altruism from a paper entity is folly.
      SOOOOO: the way to treat them fairly (and by them, I mean US...every 401k, small change Schwab account, and college saving plan is affected too!) Is to eliminate the corporate tax rate, AND treat capital gains as normal income. People are people, and income is income. It's just silly to have all these secondary tax structures and rules that invite legal work-arounds.

    Left Coast Libertarian

    by pacspeed on Sat Nov 02, 2013 at 07:07:08 PM PDT

  •  I like this a lot! (0+ / 0-)

    I like changing the conversation entirely, from deficits and austerity to real progressive ideas like in your diary. I think these are exactly the kind of ideas and change average Americans are starving for. I had not heard about the Economic Bill of Rights and now I want to hear/learn more. Thanks for the diary and giving me something to think about!

    We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. --Anaïs Nin

    by CenPhx on Sat Nov 02, 2013 at 07:51:17 PM PDT

  •  End Bush era tax breaks for the rich. (0+ / 0-)

    The deficit is caused by failure to return to pre-Bush tax rates on the ultra wealthy.
    The silent takeover of state houses across the nation by ALEC and the control of our media by corporate America is burdening the middle class and making the American dream a nightmare.

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