The GOP Should think Seriously about “Jobs For All”
Sen. Bernie Sanders is planning to propose a guaranteed-jobs program. Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. What politician in their right mind is going to go in front of an American audience and say, “I am completely against a government program that is going to put poor people to work”?
Really? That’s your plan? Justify it any way you want, but as soon as you get in a debate and try to defend that position, you’re setting yourself up for a one-two combo that finishes with “and I also supported a tax cut for wealthy people and corporations.”
The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and Republican politicians declaiming that poor people are living high on the public dole. “Why can’t those lazy poor people get a job instead of living off our tax money and getting free food and services?”
Do ya’ll even listen to yourselves? You want people to have a job in order to get public benefits. How about giving them a job instead of giving them all of those government benefits after they get a job (or withholding them until they do)? The outcome is better and more sustainable and actually gets the results you want for the tax dollars you’re spending directly rather than indirectly (if at all).
“But the upward pressure on wages and benefits would force private companies to increase spending on wages and benefits in order to compete for labor,” I hear you cry. And I wince as I watch you try to say that with a straight face in front of an American electorate that is already convinced you are the Plutocrat Party.
Unions might actually lose some power and appeal
Didn’t think about that one, did ya? Because Republicans have spent the last thirty years or so playing the short game, they forgot how to think long-term.
What value do unions provide to their members? The simple answer is they negotiate contracts with employers. But why? Because employees feel like they can’t get good wages and benefits if they don’t join the union (or at least if the union isn’t around to ensure the company provides a good contract whether or not they join). But if workers have a reasonable default alternative, companies will be forced to provide better wages and benefits just to keep them (see my point above). This might make union membership (and the attendant cost of paying dues) seem less attractive. Given the fact that unions have a long history of supporting Democratic candidates that should be enticing for Republicans.
A broader tax base means more fiscal stability
You know what the great thing is about people having jobs? They get a paycheck. And you know what the great thing is about a paycheck, at least from a governmental perspective? Payroll taxes. Not just income taxes, but FICA too. Social Security, Medicare and all those social programs that Republicans love to blame for busting the budget, actually have their own special line for coming out of paychecks. By having more people receiving a paycheck, there will be a broader tax base, which means more people paying taxes. And since the people taking those jobs will by definition be on the lower end of the economy, they won’t be benefiting from that “big, beautiful tax cut” you passed last year, so it will help make up for the gigantic deficit caused by that self-same tax cut. It’s a win-win!
A government program that really does help pay for itself
Hey, speaking of that giant stink-bomb you just can’t seem to stop trying to pass off as a rose, there’s another benefit to this sort of program that you can actually sell as, well, a benefit. Unlike when Republican politicians laughably tried to sell the Great Giveaway of 2017 as “paying for itself,” this is a federal program that will help to offset its own costs. Note that I’m not trying to be so disingenuous as to suggest that it will completely pay for itself, because the next government program that does that will be the first. But this kind of program could at least reduce some costs and offset others.
How you might ask? First by generating tax revenue. Second, the more people who have jobs, the fewer people who will need the various iterations of welfare such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, etc., especially if those jobs include healthcare. If those people then go on to get jobs in the private sector (because hey, if you have to work anyway, why not get a better paying job, amirite?), that’s less money being spent by the federal government, more people with a better standard of living, and everybody gets what they claimed they wanted all along.
Now obviously you could say you’re just shuffling money from one government program to another, but so what? The money is already getting spent. Wouldn’t it be better if you’re getting something in return? The only remaining question is “what kind of something should you get?”
My Not So Humble Suggestion: Bridge Employment
If Republican politicians are smart, they’re going to get out in front of this. One of the ways they can do this is with a one-two punch of their own. For starters, they can raise the minimum wage to $12.85 an hour. Any Democrat who votes against this because they want to “Fight for 15” will get pilloried. That will effectively kill that issue for at least another ten years, because at that point anyone who seriously keeps after it will just look like they are either moving the goal posts, unwilling to compromise, or simply unwilling to take yes for an answer.
The next thing to do is introduce a plan for guaranteed employment, but don’t pay minimum wage. Pay something between $7.50-$9.00 an hour instead. This will make “guaranteed work” less attractive than even a minimum wage job, but will still put money in the pocket of anyone who can’t even get a minimum wage job. Why would anyone be willing to take it when they can get more money doing literally anything else? Because there are situations when getting a minimum wage job is actually less attractive than or even not feasible compared to taking guaranteed employment, as long as you make those situations eligible as employment. I would suggest covering anyone who is a full-time family caretaker, enrolled at least part-time in training or higher education, or currently eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance.
Another situation would be where you can’t get enough hours working a minimum wage job to make as much as you can be working full time making less. Sure, $12.85 an hour sounds great compared to $9.00 an hour — until you find out you’re only getting 15 hours a week. Then, that 40 hours a week at $9.00, plus health insurance, sounds awfully tempting. Add in the idea that you’ll be getting paid to get training in job skills or a certificate that will make you more appealing to an employer, and it’s a no-brainer.
I understand you can’t live on $9.00 an hour, even with health insurance, and I don’t expect anyone to do that. That’s why I call this solution “Bridge Employment.” The idea is that it won’t replace any of the programs out there — short term unemployment will still exist for folks who can get a new job relatively quickly, and social safety nets will still exist to keep people from falling through the cracks — but the idea is to help people get across those big gaps. Not able to make the transition from school to a steady, survivable job? Did the plant close down and you don’t have the skill set to make it in the new economy? Did you leave your career to take care of your kids and now money is tighter than you thought it would be? Have an elderly relative who needs more attention than you can give while working full-time? Bridge Employment combines community support, opportunity, and personal dignity.
The benefits are more than just money and keeping people afloat. If you get training, you’re ready for your next position. If instead you choose a job, you get something to put on your resume, so you don’t have a blank spot you have to explain to your next employer. For those who are home caretakers that later decide to return to their careers, online courses can be offered to help them develop or maintain their skills.
Or Republican politicians can keep giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations and blaming the poor for being poor. See how much further that gets you.