What if Everyone Had a Job?

Taub’s classic article provides a perspective shared by many since the beginning of industrialization and particularly since corporate capitalism emerged (with significant federal incentives) and took over local economies. It was the center of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, and the ensuing legislation introduced by James E. Murray – the Full Employment Act of 1945. It is an important message that should ground all local economic development efforts.  (Picture: Sen. Murray rides with FDR and Eleanor). 

What if Everyone Had a Job?

By Richard Taub, Sept/Oct 1996

Richard Taub

Richard Taub

When I read about efforts to build community, I continue to be struck by the fact that those who operate at the neighborhood level seem not to pay real attention to the economic world. They focus instead on building housing, having more and better services including shops, getting people to work together, and having more programs to deliver services in some organized way.

Yet it does not take a lot of effort to see that if every able-bodied person in a community had a job, many of the other problems and solutions to them would decline in importance. Indeed, many of the concerns about community building are about replacing those things that money can buy.

Imagine, for example, wealthy people living in a high-rise community, say on Chicago’s Gold Coast, New York’s Park Avenue, or San Francisco’s Nob Hill. In most cases, their effective social community does not overlap with their territorial community. Instead, it is either built around work and/or some social clubs. They pay people to look after their children, to provide adequate education, to take care of their health, and, in addition to the good policing they get, they pay for extensive security systems including doormen, patrols, and alarms of various sorts.

As one moves down the economic scale, the role of voluntary community activity and coming together plays an increasingly larger part. Parents supervise the Little League, neighborhood watch programs are established, people keep their eyes on each others kids, they organize to keep some undesirable use (to them) such as a halfway house out of the community, and they may pester the teachers in the local public schools for delivery of better education or a good after-school program.

Normally, residents of urban communities do not work in the communities or neighborhoods where they live. One of the great inventions of modern cities was that areas developed specializations of use, and that residential areas often are some distance from where people work. To the extent, then, that community building is about jobs, efforts to create them must often take place outside the community.

That part of the story has gotten more complicated in recent years, because it takes two earners to make what one used to, and women who might do many of the activities listed above (e.g. keeping their eyes on their neighbors kids or putting pressure on the schools) are less likely to have the time. Moreover, as companies move to the suburbs, many of the jobs that people now go to are much farther away than they used to be, and most of the jobs are less likely to be industrial and more likely to be in some of the so-called service and retail areas.

As one moves further down the income scale, the role of the neighborhood working collectively seems to increase in importance. Because people have less, they need to help each other more. They have to band together to get the resources that are properly due to them; they have to police their neighborhoods aggressively because so many unemployed people are hanging around, some of them drinking too much or doing drugs or working in illegal activities to provide some sort of income. They must work together to supervise youth under threatening conditions and work with the police to crack down on troublemakers, even while frightened about possible retaliation.

One problem with community building as community building is that it confuses the results with the cause. Practitioners hope that by increasing the capacity of residents to work together to solve collective problems, these communities will be better places to live. To some extent, this may be true. But in some respects, it is a little like trying to gather up the water to pour back in the pipe after the water main has broken. The issue is not how to deal with the consequences of unemployment and lack of incomes, but how to deal with the unemployment and lack of incomes themselves.

Consequently, any community-building effort that is serious and not simply palliative must move economic questions to the forefront. The challenge is to figure out how to do that. There is no one magic bullet. Methods to encourage business start-ups and self-employment – such as for-profit business creation and individual development accounts – should be in such a program. Job training and placement programs designed by working with employers as Project Quest in Texas does are also important. Systems of transportation that bring workers to distant jobs may also be useful. In addition, youth apprenticeship programs, such as those by the Fifth Avenue Committee, which teach youth real skills in short supply in the labor market, would be desirable.

In short, community building must start with connecting people to the economy. Without incomes, it is hard to imagine what people in communities can do to really make a difference in their lives.

Copyright 1996

Original publication


Historical Amnesia: The Humphrey-Hawkins Act, Full Employment and Employment as a Right (Ginsburg, 2011)

President Jimmy Carter signs Humphrey-Hawkins.

From the article abstract:

Economist William A. Darity has proposed a federal job guarantee with decent wages for all job seekers, an idea with deep, but largely forgotten, roots in US history. The article briefly explores some New Deal job-creation efforts and President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights. It then focuses on two major attempts to secure full employment through legislation. The Full Employment Bill of 1945 was defeated; the compromise, the Employment Act of 1946 did not have full employment as its goal. After years of struggle, a much-weakened Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 passed, but then was violated and virtually ignored. Full employment shifts power from capital to labor, so major opposition can be expected from efforts to obtain it. Proponents need more power and a strong movement, including at the grassroots level, pushing for jobs for all–not just jobs for me or my group. Publicizing the benefits of past job programs and reintroducing the idea of a decent-paying job as a right are suggested, as well as making decent jobs for all the center of economic policy. This requires a fundamental break with neoliberalism and reallocating political power away from big business and Wall Street toward middle and working-class people and the working- and non-working poor.

Link to full article: http://www.njfac.org/bpe-ginsburg.pdf

The Missed Opportunity for an Economic Budget

JamesEMurrayFullEmployment“There is something wrong with the distribution of income in our economy. Not enough of the income created by production gets into the hands of those that will spend it back into production.

Senator James E. Murray, 1945 [1]

The end of World War II placed employment at the top of the national agenda. Seasoned lawmakers and experienced public officials had lived through the burst of an employment bubble after WWI, twenty-five years early, and the Great Depression that followed.

President Roosevelt, during his annual message to Congress, proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” to guide Congress in establishing “a standard of living, higher than ever know before.”

The rights included:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.[2]

Senators Harry Truman (D-MO) and Senator James E. Murray (D-MT) presided over a Senate subcommittee focused on the first point, to provide employment opportunities for all Americans. When Truman left the Senate for the Vice Presidency, the responsibility for shaping legislation fell to Murray. In 1945, Murray, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, drafted Senate Bill 380, the “Full Employment Act of 1945” and found bi-partisan co-sponsors in Senators Wagner (D-NY), Thomas (D-UT), O’Mahoney (D-WY), Morse (R-OR), Tobey (R-NH), Aiken (R-VT), and Langer (R-ND).

S. 380 sought to go beyond the reactionary work-relief measures crafted after the Great Depression, by taking advance measures to avoid depression and unemployment altogether. A critical element of this proactive approach was for the President to prepare a separate “National Production and Employment Budget” (Economic Budget), apart from the regular budget, that prescribes a “complete and well-rounded program for maintaining full production.” Murray believed that the Economic Budget would focus lawmakers on substantive employment policy matters every year, as opposed to merely limiting the discussion to meaningless campaign rhetoric every presidential election. [3]

During the subsequent debates of S. 380, the bill was watered-down, the Economic Budget was dropped, as was “Full” from the title. The Employment Act of 1946, adopted and signed into law, created policy objectives similar to those outlined in F.D.R.’s Second Bill of Rights, but it fell short in focusing Congressional attention on the economy and unemployment.

An annual Economic Budget is a concept worth revisiting. It could pull the nation’s most important issue off the campaign trail and put it back into halls of Congress where it belongs. It would serve as a central point to discuss living wages, work-visas, public service employment and corporate out-sourcing.

[1] James E. Murray, “A Practical Approach,” The American Political Science Review 39, no. 6 (December 1945): 1119–26.

[2] http://www.ushistory.org/documents/economic_bill_of_rights.htm

[3] Murray, “A Practical Approach.”