The Human Right to a Decent Job

Inca Wall in Coricancha, Cusco
szeke / / CC BY-NC-SA

By Wade Lee Hudson

Most Americans agree. As a society, we should see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a living-wage job opportunity. When we establish that foundation of economic security, everyone will benefit. Securing this human right is our moral obligation.

Pope Francis may inspire a widespread moral renewal that prompts business owners to pay better wages. The wealthy may someday donate enough money to non-profit organizations to hire everyone who needs a decent job. Until we witness that change of heart, however, the federal government must help.

As citizens, we need not prescribe exactly how the government should assure genuine full employment. The experts can figure that out. Our job is to keep pushing them until they do it. But we can suggest some options.

Without increasing the deficit, we can minimize problems associated with “big government” by distributing federal revenue-sharing funds for public-service jobs to local governments, where citizens can monitor and influence how the money is spent. The jobs created can be regular, permanent jobs that provide needed services, like child care, substance abuse programs, in-home caregiving, and improving our parks – not temporary “make work” positions or jobs only for people who meet certain qualifications. Priority can be given to entry-level jobs in the $12-16 per hour range in order to maximize the number of people who gain employment.

A sales tax on Wall Street speculation can raise $100 billion or more annually, which would also discourage dangerous, unproductive gambling. In addition, we can close loopholes that allow corporations to hide profits offshore, and transfer funds from wasteful military spending. Creating jobs will boost the economy and generate additional tax revenue, which we can use to create more jobs. Savings from reduced food stamp and unemployment insurance payments will also be available.

By steadily increasing funding each year, local governments can prepare for how to use the money, and the governments involved can better deal with any problems that develop. The size of the grants can be based in part on local unemployment rates. Cities and town with more unemployment will receive more. We can insist that local governments not use the money to replace their current programs and reduce their own taxes.

We can’t guarantee everyone a job, but we can guarantee the opportunity. We can insist that supervisors assure that their employees work hard. They owe their workers and the taxpayer nothing less. If good jobs are available we shouldn’t give tax money to people who are able but unwilling to work.

Not every unemployed individual will take advantage of these opportunities. Some people will first have to deal with substance abuse, helped by knowing a meaningful job awaits them when they get their act together. Other individuals will rely on friends, family, or charity. But almost everyone who wants to work will put in a solid effort if given the chance. And everyone has some useful skill.

When we achieve true full employment, those who are worried about food stamps fostering dependency can rest assured that we are supporting self-determination. Business owners will gain from a more prosperous economy. Everyone will benefit from living in a more harmonious, safer society. People formerly living in poverty will be able to make ends meet, which will greatly improve the quality of their lives. Most workers will: 1) benefit from higher wages (because employers will pay more to keep trained employees); 2) be treated with more respect by employers (because workers will have more choices), and; 3) have more leisure time to relax with their families, enjoy their lives, and contribute to their community.

A common argument against full employment is that it would cause excessive inflation. But most efforts to increase employment have relied on deficit spending, which can be inflationary, and a jobs program can be funded without increasing the deficit. Increased global competition makes inflation less likely; in recent decades, when unemployment decreased, inflation did not increase. A public-service jobs program will have less inflationary impact than boosting private-sector employment. Funds will disproportionately go to areas with higher unemployment, which means less inflationary pressure. And so long as wages and Social Security payments increase to compensate, modest inflation is not a problem for most people.

The federal government has created unemployment and poverty on purpose, in the name of preventing inflation. But those actions are a moral outrage. If and when inflation becomes a problem, we can deal with it some other way.

In the meantime, let’s help our society live up to its highest ideals, “promote the general welfare,” and support “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”


Wade Lee Hudson a community organizer and part-time cab driver in San Francisco is author of the Guarantee Living-Wage Job Opportunity petition.

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