Should the Feds Guarantee You a Job?

In Economy On
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What should the president do about jobs?

For 30 years, Democratic administrations have approached the question by focusing on the overall economy and trusting that a vibrant labor market would follow. But there is a growing feeling among Democrats — along with many mainstream economists — that the market alone cannot give workers a square deal.

So after a health crisis that has destroyed millions of jobs, a summer of urban protest that drew attention to the deprivation of Black communities, and another presidential election that exposed deep economic and social divides, some policymakers are reconsidering a policy tool not deployed since the Great Depression: to have the federal government provide jobs directly to anyone who wants one.

On the surface, the politics seem as stuck as ever. Senator Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, introduced bills in 2018 and 2019 to set up pilot programs in 15 cities and regions that would offer training and a guaranteed job to all who sought one, at federal expense. Both efforts failed.

And after progressive Democrats in Congress proposed a federal jobs program as part of their Green New Deal in 2019, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, asked, “Are you willing to give the government and some faceless bureaucrats who sit in Washington, D.C., the authority to make those choices for your life?”

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