The Right to Employment: An Essay and a Survey (Drafts)

Dear Wade’s Wire Subscribers:
Earlier today, I sent the following to Justin Talbot Zorn, Dean Baker, Karen Dolan, and Phil Harvey. Your feedback is welcome.
–Wade

+++

Dear Justin, Dean, Karen, and Phil:

Please find enclosed a draft of an article titled “The Right to Employment” and a projected Survey Monkey questionnaire titled, “Full Employment: A Survey for Economists.”

Party in order to promote the Feb. 5 forum, I may post and circulate these documents Thursday, Jan. 30, no sooner than 6pm Eastern Time.

Your feedback would be very much appreciated.

Thanks,
Wade

+++

The Right to Employment
By Wade Lee Hudson

On February 5 in Washington, DC, Ed Schults, MSNBC host, will moderate an important public forum on “Employment: A Human Right.” The focus of the event will be HR 1000, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act, which “aims to provide a job to any American that seeks work.”

The bill establishes a trust fund financed by a small tax on Wall Street trading. Those funds will be distributed to States, local governments, and Indian tribes to hire public-service workers to meet pressing social and environmental needs.

HR 1000 affirms a clear definition of full employment with language such as:
• The right to full opportunities for useful paid employment at fair rates of compensation of all individuals able, willing, and seeking to work.
• Achieving a national goal of jobs for all at living wages.
• Even at the top of the business cycle, when national unemployment rates drop to the 4 percent to 5 percent range, job vacancy surveys show that the economy does not provide enough jobs to employ everyone who wants to work.
• Progress to fulfill the right to useful work at living wages for all persons seeking employment.

But “full employment” has become an ambiguous phrase. Many economists use the term to refer to an unemployment rate that is supposedly not so low as to cause excessive inflation, which they call the nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment, or “NAIRU.” They disagree about what that specific rate is supposed to be and recent expert predictions have been wrong. But most of them seem to accept that there is such a rate.

These concerns have prompted many economists to avoid offering clear, full-throated support for true full employment, as affirmed in HR 1000. It will be interesting, therefore, to see if the five economists on the February 5 panel will clearly endorse HR 1000, which does not get sucked into this academic debate about the NAIRU (which may well be a myth).

Grassroots activists, such as the 130 individuals who’ve signed the Guarantee Living-Wage Job Opportunities petition, need economists to endorse HR 1000 and its unambiguous definition of full employment. This endorsement will help give this legislation legitimacy, which will strengthen our efforts to use the bill as an organizing tool.

So I’ve also posted “Full Employment: A Survey for Economists” and hope that economists will complete this questionnaire to clarify their position on these issues. It will be helpful for any economists who don’t support true full employment to let us know why. Perhaps there are legitimate objections to HR 1000 that those of us who back it need to know about. So please inform economists about this survey and suggest to them they complete it. I will share responses, as well as a summary report.

Especially in today’s economy, the concerns about inflation strike me as unjustified, and HR 1000 includes a number of provisions to guard against excessive inflation. Given the political will, rooted in strong popular pressure, we could deal with any problematic increases in inflation, as I argued in the “Controlling Inflation” section of my 1990 book, Economic Security for All.

Referring to traditional measures to stimulate the private economy, in an email to me Dean Baker said, “There will be a limit as to how far you can go with just macroeconomic policy. At that point there will still be people without jobs. It will require other policies to get those people employed.” In Getting Back to Full Employment, Baker and his co-author, Jared Bernstein, argue that the government should act as an “employer of last resort” when “labor markets fail to create the quantity of jobs necessary to employ American labor resources.” HR 1000 fulfills that responsibility.

Concerning inflation, HR 1000 states, “Direct job creation to close the economy’s job gap … provides a means of creating additional jobs without adding significantly to inflationary pressures,” as can be the case with deficit spending. In emails to me, Phil Harvey elaborates on this point:

First, unlike a macroeconomic stimulus, a direct job creation program can limit its job creation effect to those places where job shortages still exist and for the benefit of those individuals who lack work because of the unavailability of suitable employment in the regular labor market.

Second, unlike the jobs created by a macroeconomic stimulus, workers employed in a direct job creation program can remain available for private sector employment when and if they are needed, thereby accomplishing the wage and price stabilizing function that unemployment performs without requiring anyone to be unemployed.

Third, while a macroeconomic stimulus creates jobs by increasing aggregate demand, thereby exerting upward pressure on prices, a direct job creation program can be funded without increasing aggregate demand at the top of the business cycle (as the countercyclical trust fund financing of Unemployment Insurance benefits demonstrates)….

Jobs funded by HR 1000 would have to be temporary … by making workers employed with program funds subject to the same kind of recall requirements that limit the continued receipt of Unemployment Insurance benefits…. [HR 1000] would protect program employees from having to accept private or regular public sector jobs less favorable than their program job.

Clearly, achieving full employment is possible in this country. We did it during World War Two because we made a commitment to do it. We can do it again.

A standard justification for accepting less than full living-wage employment is that young and relatively unskilled workers don’t deserve a living wage. Therefore, the argument goes, they must work hard, gain experience, and improve their skills so they can boost their income. Thus, poverty-level wages are supposed to serve as a motivational tool for self-advancement and enhanced productivity.

But workers employed at a living wage are still be motivated to improve their position. And declaring that some people don’t deserve a living wage opens the door to evermore people working at poverty-level wages. A living wage is a fundamental human right that all workers deserve. We must consistently fight for that principle.

As George Lakoff has argued persuasively, we need to couch our policy proposals within a moral framework that resonates deeply with our audience. And most Americans agree: the federal government should see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a living wage job.

Rep. John Conyers. Jr. introduced HR 1000 in March 2013. Thus far, it has garnered 56 cosponsors, including Representative Frederica S. Wilson. Conyers and Wilson will be the featured speakers at the one-hour Feb. 5 public forum. Participating on a panel will be: Dean Baker, Co-Director and Co-Founder of Center for Economic and Policy Research; John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies; Phil Harvey, Professor of Law and Economics at Rutgers University; Thea Lee, Deputy Chief of Staff at AFL-CIO; Larry Mishel, President of Economic Policy Institute.

Spread the word about the forum and attend if you can. Achieving true full employment would have enormous beneficial effects throughout our society. When more economists take a clear stand on this moral issue, our chances of success will be enhanced. So hopefully the Feb. 5 event will lead to more support from economists for HR 1000 and the human right to living-wage employment.

I’ll inform signers of the Guarantee Living-Wage Job Opportunities petition about developments concerning this urgent issue. If you have not already signed, please consider doing so.

++++

Full Employment: A Survey for Economists (DRAFT)

Introduction:
This survey concerns HR 1000, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act. A summar of this bill is at http://conyers.house.gov/index.cfm/jobs. The full text is at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1000/text

Questions:
Do you support HR 1000, the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Not sure Comments:

Do you support the human right to a living-wage job opportunity?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Not sure Comments:

Do you believe that if we have the political will, we can handle any inflationary pressures that result from securing the human right to a living-wage job opportunity?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Not sure Comments:

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.