MDRC in the News

A Promise So Big, Democrats Aren’t Sure How to Keep It

The Atlantic


Jawan Thompson still sounds incredulous at his luck: He has a job, and a good job.

“My first time being incarcerated, I was 15 years old,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been incarcerated maybe four or five times—you know, getting out, being around bad influences and not making positive choices.” After he was released from his latest spell inside a few months ago—his charges over the years have included armed robbery, burglary, and drug dealing—a community corrections officer told him that there was a program that would help him out with a paying gig. “I was like, ‘Nah, it’s too good to be true.’ There’s not too many places that want to hire people like me, especially not younger people”…..

…..This radical idea is called a jobs guarantee, and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Cory Booker of New Jersey have in the past few weeks come out in support of it. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, another 2020 presidential aspirant, stands behind the idea too. Representative Ro Khanna, who represents much of Silicon Valley, has legislation providing a government jobs guarantee forthcoming in the House, he told The Atlantic. The most powerful think tanks on the left—including the wonkish Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the politically attuned Center for American Progress, and the progressive Levy Economics Institute of Bard College—have published jobs-guarantee policies or are planning to do so. A blue-sky policy idea has become an animating policy mandate in a matter of months…..

…..But guaranteeing every American a job means guaranteeing every American a job. It means countering the job losses caused by recessions and automation and globalization one-to-one. It means finding work for people in every town in half a continent. It means accommodating the homeless, the violent, the drug addicted, and the illiterate in the workforce. It means expanding the Department of Labor to become something like the size of the Department of Defense, and yet bigger during a downturn. It is a trillion-dollar logistical puzzle, wrapped in a politically fraught stimulus effort, inside an experimental economic enigma. And none of these proposals quite know how to solve it…..

…..There are other issues. A jobs guarantee would have to manage huge swings in the size and needs of its client population. “When there’s 10 percent unemployment, folks who are out there looking for jobs, some of them have very steady work histories and they’re pretty easy to place,” Dan Bloom, the director of [Youth Development, Criminal Justice, and Employment at] MDRC, which researches transitional employment programs, told me. “There was absolutely an employer that would love to have them if they could get their wage subsidies. That’s a different context than we have now, where the folks that are out of the labor market are probably going to be facing some serious issues”…..

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