Ayanna Pressley Thinks Every American Deserves A Job And So Do We
There has long been a really big, glaring flaw in the logic of those who think the solution to poverty is simply telling people to "get a job" or to "get a better job" or even "go to college and then get a better job" — and that is the simple fact that there are not enough jobs for everyone in the United States, and there certainly are not enough jobs that pay people enough to live. The fact is, even if everyone in America were perfect in every way, we would still not have enough jobs for everyone and jobs that pay people enough to live would not just appear out of thin air. It's a systemic flaw, not an individual one, as much as we like to imagine we live in a "meritocracy."
On Thursday, Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley released a 16-page plan for a federal jobs guarantee, an idea that has been a cornerstone of practically every civil rights movement since the 1900s, and which was a central demand of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March for Jobs and Freedom.
Under Pressley's plan, every American would be entitled to a federal job of some kind, depending on their needs and abilities — one which pays at least $15 an hour and provides health care. In doing this, we would not only be ensuring full employment but also pressuring low-wage employers to raise their wages to a living wage.
A federal job guarantee would provide every person with an enforceable legal right to a quality job on projects that meet long-neglected community, physical and human infrastructure needs, such as delivering quality care for children and seniors, building and sustaining 21st century transit systems, strengthening neighborhoods, and protecting the environment. Funded by the federal government and implemented locally in partnership with communities, the program would provide public jobs for all adults seeking employment.
By ensuring everyone has access to a good job with dignified wages, safe working conditions, health care and other benefits—including full worker rights and union protections—a federal job guarantee would address the current jobs crisis while laying the foundation for an equitable economic recovery. It would create a pathway to stable employment and begin to close the gaping income gap for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers who continue to face discrimination and are often the "first ones fired, last ones hired" during economic crises. It would also ensure economic inclusion for those experiencing discrimination in the labor market, including people with disabilities, transgender people, caregivers, and people with criminal records or involvement with the criminal legal system. And it would enable the just transition of workers in unsustainable sectors.
At a time when 28 percent of full-time workers earn less than $15 per hour , a job guarantee would set a new standard for quality jobs, pressuring low-wage employers to increase wages and benefits. By hiring workers in the midst of a downturn, a permanent job guarantee would operate as an automatic stabilizer, maintaining consumer spending and protecting us from prolonged recessions and jobless recoveries — making the economy more resilient as well as more inclusive.
Something like this is incredibly long overdue. If our current system is not providing what is necessary for people to survive, the only option is to find another way for them to do so, not to sit around waiting for it to work. It hasn't worked for a long time, and if it did, we would not be dealing with the problems we currently face.
The possible federal jobs mentioned in the proposal are also things that would greatly improve the quality of life for all Americans, not just the ones who need work. They are things we need, some quite desperately.
● Ensuring the delivery of high-quality, professional care to children, seniors, and others in need of long-term support in family based, informal, and formal settings;
● Augmenting the staffing of public education and early childhood learning, including Head Start and preschool;
● Strengthening public afterschool programs, libraries, and recreational programs to provide lifelong learning and enrichment for people of all ages;
● Implementing community infrastructure and improvement projects that revitalize neighborhoods and increase accessibility, including:
● Vacant and abandoned property cleanup; street and sidewalk repair; remodeling and modernization of schools and other public community-serving facilities; and maintenance and renovation of parks, playgrounds, and public spaces;
● Expanding emergency preparedness, and relief and recovery from natural and community disasters, including public health, natural disasters, and environmental emergencies
● Producing works of public art and documentation of American history akin to the WPA's Federal Arts Project;
● Implementing environmental conservation, remediation, and sustainability initiatives and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and our housing stock to address climate change;
● Rehabilitating and retrofitting our existing affordable housing stock to ensure safe, affordable, accessible, quality homes, and supporting the development of new affordable housing and social housing to address the nation's housing crisis.
● Other projects that address public needs and can be implemented quickly
Every American should have the right to a job that provides them with enough to live on. That is the absolute bare minimum anyone can ask for. Because if the rule is "You can only have food, shelter, healthcare, clothing and other necessities if you have a job that pays for those things," then there have to be enough jobs for everyone, or else it's a scam.
A program like this will also massively improve the economy. It's really hard to have a business when no one can afford to buy things. And sure — you could say "Well then just sell to rich people!" but let me tell you something — I've worked in luxury retail and when things are tight all over, rich people are not quite as free with their money as they might be otherwise, even if they are making the same amount of money they used to. Luxury retail was not left unscathed by the Great Recession. People are more willing to spend their money when things seem relatively secure.
We don't have a lot of job security in America, and that is one of the things that makes addressing things that need to be changed very difficult. Without a contract or a union, employees can be fired for any reason or no reason at all (except in Montana), and when that is the case, people are not always so quick to address issues of inequity. But if people know that they can get a job they can survive on if that does happen, they might feel a little freer to address those issues without fear.
One of the things people hold to be true about America is that if people are willing to work hard, they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and rise to the top. That's not actually true. We do not have a great economic mobility situation here. But if we're committed, we could at least create a reality where it is possible for every American to at least earn enough to live on. Yes, it's a low bar, but we haven't managed to hit it yet.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse