A Job Guarantee Plan to Reduce Poverty, Unemployment, and Race Riots

In 1967, the President's National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty created a report called The People Left Behind. As the commission's name suggests, the focus of the report was on reducing rural poverty, a topic of great political interest at the time due to the recent rediscovery that there were a lot of poor rural people in the South. In light of all the recent chatter about a federal job guarantee program (Rolling StoneThe NationJacobin), I thought one of the proposals of this report might be of some interest.

On page 19 of the report, under the heading "Guaranteed Employment", the Commission recommends:

That the United States Government stand ready to provide jobs at the national minimum wage, or better, to every unemployed person willing and able to work.
 
That right there is the job guarantee proposal people have been kicking around lately. In addition to noting the benefits of full employment to the workforce in general, the report justifies such a program thusly:
 
The rural poor want work. They want to earn their own living, to be respected by their families and communities as responsible and capable people.
 
There is plenty of work that needs to be done in rural areas. Evidence indicates that many of the rural poor could be gainfully employed by private businesses, provided they are given adequate training to qualify for these jobs. Many others could be hired in public service jobs, to repair the dilapidated houses of the rural poor, or to build them new houses; to improve water and sewerage systems, or to build new systems where none today. Hospitals and schools need more workers. Highways and parks need to be improved and maintained. The rural poor can do many of these jobs, while earning a reasonable income.
 
The report goes on to explain that there is even widespread support for a job guarantee program, at least as a strategy for reducing the incidence of race riots:
 
The vast majority of Americans think public service employment is a good idea. In a recent survey, 66 percent of whites and 91 percent of Negroes favored "setting up large-scale Federal work projects to give jobs to all the unemployed," as one way to resolve race problems and prevent race riots.
 
This proposal ends with a plea to avoid making the job guarantee a program that only covers those beneath the poverty line:
 
The onus of "poor man's jobs" must be avoided. Otherwise the effectiveness of the program will be greatly reduced. Many of the poor may be ashamed to participate, and those who do participate may be deprived of the self-esteem that is so essential to human dignity and well-being. [...] Public service employment programs must be expanded to blanket the entire labor force, guaranteeing everyone a job who wants one, without regard for age, sex, race, color, creed, or residence.
 
There are lots of things you can say about the idea of a public job guarantee. But one thing you can't say is that it is an idea with no pedigree in this country.

 

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