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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – Democrats and Full Employment

At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson explains why “Why the Cause of Full Employment Is Back from the Dead,” despite a relatively low official unemployment rate, 4.1 percent (which incudes jobs that don’t pay a living wage). “The rise of precarious and poorly paid work, chiefly in but not confined to the service sector; the wage stagnation affecting most of the workforce (which Jared Bernstein documented in a piece for the Prospect earlier this week; the declining level of labor force participation in those parts of the country where work, particularly remunerative work, has largely disappeared; the chronic economic insecurity of millennials, and the political left turn they’ve executed in response; the opening to more radical economic reforms unleashed by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign—all these have led to a new economic radicalism bleeding its way into the Democratic mainstream.”

Full employment still polls well for Democrats. As Sean McElwee, Colin McAuliffe and Jon Green recently write in their article, “Why Democrats Should Embrace a Federal Jobs Guarantee” in The Nation: “To explore the possibility of Democrats’ running on a guaranteed-job plan, we asked the respected data analytics firm Civis Analytics to not only poll guaranteed jobs, but poll it in the way that would be most likely to gain opposition from voters. They asked respondents: “Democrats in congress are proposing a bill which would guarantee a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector. This would be paid for by a 5 percent income tax increase on those making over $200,000 per year. Would you be for or against this policy?”…We expected that in a generic scenario, people would support guaranteed jobs, but before urging Democrats to embrace it, we wanted to see if the policy might take a hit when Republicans made the issue partisan and talked about tax hikes…The results of the Civis polling were nothing short of stunning, showing large net support for a job guarantee: 52 percent in support, 29 percent opposed, and the rest don’t know. “Even with explicit partisan framing and the inclusion of revenue in the wording, this is one of the most popular issues we’ve ever polled,” said David Shor, a senior data scientist at Civis Analytics.”

Another finding revealed from The Nation article: “…Our think tank Data for Progress modeled state-level support for guaranteed jobs using data provided to us by the Center for American Progress, with the help of Senior Adviser Austin Rochford. We find that the job guarantee polls stunningly well in all 50 states. Even in the state with the lowest modeled support, Utah, support is still 57 percent. Deep-red states like West Virginia (62 percent support), Indiana (61 percent), and Kansas (67 percent) all boast strong support for a job guarantee. Indeed, the places where the job guarantee is most popular might be surprising: DC (84 percent), Mississippi (72 percent), North Carolina (72 percent), Hawaii (72 percent), and Georgia (71 percent) have the highest estimates, though support is also high in solid-blue states like California and New York (both 71 percent)…“The results of this research were just staggering. Americans not only overwhelmingly oppose cuts to programs like Medicaid and nutrition assistance. They also support really bold progressive alternatives—including a jobs guarantee,” said Jeremy Slevin, the director of advocacy for the Poverty team at CAP. “If there was any doubt as to whether progressives should champion far-reaching proposals to help people find good-paying jobs, I hope this erases it,” he said.

Meyerson notes that Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a comprehensive “guaranteed full employment bill” and “the [Democratic] party now embraces the $15 minimum wage; the cause of single-payer is taken up by a surprising number of elected officials. In addition to the Sanders bill, “New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has proposed setting up pilot full employment programs in 15 urban and rural areas with persistently high levels of unemployment…And Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin—up for re-election in a state where working class whites forsook their Democratic allegiances to vote for Donald Trump in 2016—has authored a bill that requires corporations to have their workers elect one-third of their corporation’s board of directors—a feature, somewhat modified, of German social democracy, and one reason why Germany’s workers are, on the whole, doing better than ours.”

The Sanders jobs bill would require the “federal government to guarantee a job paying $15 an hour and health-care benefits to every American worker “who wants or needs one,” embracing the kind of large-scale government works project that Democrats have shied away from in recent decades,” reports Jeff Stein at The Washington Post. Sanders’s public sector jobs program “would fund hundreds of projects throughout the United States aimed at addressing priorities such as infrastructure, care giving, the environment, education and other goals…”A dozen regional centers would develop proposals for needed public works projects. Current jobs proposals trend away from President Obama’s “public-private partnerships or government incentives to reshape private markets and toward an unambiguous embrace of direct government intervention, adds Stein. “The goal is to eliminate working poverty and involuntary unemployment altogether,” said Darrick Hamilton, an economist at the New School who has advocated for a jobs guarantee program along with Stony Brook University’s Stephanie Kelton and a group of left-leaning economists at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. “This is an opportunity for something transformative, beyond the tinkering we’ve been doing for the last 40 years, where all the productivity gains have gone to the elite of society.”

Jane Sanders interviews Stephanie Kelton, former senior economist on the Senate Budget Committee and economic advisor to Sen. Sanders, on the need for a natinal jobs guarantee:

In their Article, “The Full Employment Solution,” also in The American Prospect, Professors Mark Paul, William Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton, make a case that the time is right for Democrats to make full employment a priority: “These conditions warrant the resurrection of a bold idea, an Economic Bill of Rights for all Americans, tailored to the conditions of the 21st century.” The authors cite “the first article of a new Economic Bill of Rights—a federal job guarantee…First, we invariably have major economic crises that drive people out of work; the most recent episode is the Great Recession. Second, even in “good” economic times, the United States has more people seeking employment than the private sector is willing to employ. And third, not only do we generally have an inadequate number of jobs, but we have a tier of jobs that feature low pay, uncertain hours, and few or no benefits…What the nation needs is federal legislation that would guarantee employment to every American at non-poverty wages.”

In early March, Democratic leaders shared the broad strokes of an ambitious infrastructure upgrade program, which would provide millions of new jobs at a living wage As Mike Debonis reported at Powerpost, “As the White House struggles to finance an ambitious infrastructure plan, Senate Democrats are proposing one alternative — albeit one unlikely to pass muster with President Trump: rolling back the recently passed Republican tax overhaul…The proposal unveiled by Democratic leaders Wednesday would plow just over $1 trillion into a wide range of infrastructure needs, including $140 billion for roads and bridges, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools.”…The spending would be offset by clawing back two-thirds of the revenue lost in the Republican tax bill by reinstating a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, restoring the individual alternative minimum tax, reversing cuts to the estate tax, and raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 25 percent…Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview Tuesday that the plan sets up a stark contrast for voters ahead of the midterm elections.”’…“We believe overwhelmingly the American people will prefer building infrastructure and creating close to 15 million middle-class jobs than giving tax breaks for the wealthy,” he said.” Although much of the Democratic plan would send money to traditional infrastructure priorities like highways, transit and waterways, Schumer highlighted less conventional spending priorities, including $40 billion to build high-speed Internet connections in rural areas and $80 billion to upgrade the country’s energy grid.”

Will centrist and more conservative Democrats also support a party agenda that puts full employment as a unifying priority? In their article, “Get to Work, Democrats: Become the Jobs Party,” about findings of their focus groups on jobs at thirdway.org, Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Ryan Pougiales conclude, “The lesson that stands out from this research is clear: the Party needs to actively and impassionedly seek out the title of “the jobs party.” In House and Senate Democrats’ new Better Deal agenda , the focus on and promise of Better Jobs is essential. Hopefully, this shows that Democrats are coming to grips with the jobs tension that they have failed to reconcile in recent years. Even as the economy approaches full employment, there remains real economic anxiety, and people will always aspire to new and better job opportunities. Trump spoke to this—and voters responded. To rebuild the Party and regain the power to enact their priorities, Democrats need to craft a broad path that’s inclusive of a diverse coalition and sustainable across election cycles. Reclaiming its status as the party of jobs is a unifying way to do just that.”

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes – Democrats and Full Employment

  1. Candace on

    I like it

    “With Roosevelt’s go-ahead, Hopkins established the Civil Works Administration, which managed to put more than four million Americans (in a nation of roughly 130 million) to work on infrastructure programs in less than three months. The program ended with the coming of spring, but was re-established as the Works Progress Administration in 1935, which employed more than five million Americans building post offices, schools, libraries and airports, paving roads, and (for what Communists of the day referred to as “culture workers”) painting murals, writing guidebooks and putting on plays.”

    Musicians included!


  2. Victor on

    The history of the idea of an employment guarantee shows that working class Blacks and whites have common objectives.

    And that these objectives are ignored by middle class white Democrats.

    A full employment guarantee should be complemented with a complete rethinking of the safety net (implicit taxes on labor via regressive means testing, marriage penalty) and the welfare state (gaps in coverage and UBI).

    It also shows that the Federal Reserve is illegally raising interest rates in the absence of actual full employment (U6 -involuntary part time employment plus unemployment- is at 8%).


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