A Left Role, Renewed Identity,
and How-To, in Campaigns for
National Service Jobs Programs
By John Case
Does the current crisis justify an expanded role for government as an employer of last result?
Consider the following facts from EPI research:
Number unemployed: 15.4 million (up from 7.5 million in December 2007) Portion of official unemployed considered structural: 3.9 million Portion of unemployed who have been jobless more than six months: 38.3% Total jobs lost during the recession: 8.0 million Jobs needed to return to pre-recession unemployment rate: 10.9 million Number of job-seekers per job opening: 6.1 Unemployment rate: 10.0% Underemployment rate: 17.2%; Share of workers un- or underemployed: more than 1 in 6 States with double-digit unemployment in October, 2009: 15 White unemployment: 9.3%; African-American unemployment: 15.6%; Hispanic unemployment:12.7% Manufacturing jobs lost since the start of the recession: 2.1 million (15.5% of sector's jobs) Construction jobs lost in the recession: 1.6 million (20.8%, nearly one in five construction jobs) Mass layoffs (50 or more people by a single employer) in October 2009: 2,127; jobs lost:217,182 Under- and unemployed, marginally attached and involuntary part-time workers: 26.9 million
Americans with no health insurance in 2008: 46.3 million Annual Social Security benefit for average retiree: $13,922; Share of older Americans receiving all their income from Social Security: more than 1 out of 4 Number of children in poverty in 2008: 14.1 million (over one-third) Drop in real median income from 2007 to 2008: 3.6% (largest one-year drop since 1967) Growth rate of nominal, hourly wages of production workers over the last three months:1.7% Additional people covered by Medicaid/SCHIP in 2008: 3 million
Not since the Great Depression has structural unemployment been so intense or sustained. Despite faster and smarter liquidity and fiscal efforts by government than occurred then, employment decline has merely decelerated 24 months into what is now dubbed 'The Great Recession'. It is not yet near enough to avert 5-10 years of unemployment rates above 6% (the level at which the 'Great Recession' started). The foundation of New Deal anti-depression actions, and one of the most successful and long lasting in its effects, was directly putting men to work in public works projects that became associated with several national service programs. The economist Hyman Minsky coined the term 'Employer of Last Resort' to describe government full employment efforts, which were part of his economic prescription, discussed more below, for countering capitalism's inherent vulnerability to financial instability.
This article explores the appropriateness, precedents and how-to's of national service programs (the chief US version of employer of last resort). in responding to the current crisis. The moral and social virtues of putting the unemployed to work in the creation of useful and meaningful public goods, instead of subjecting them to sustained idleness, should be self-evident.(more...)