Program design: is full employment possible?

FEMA - 29783 - Workers unemployed by the freeze in California

As described in this PBS news story, the United States spent approximately $740 billion in 2011 on anti-poverty programs. And, we still had 15 million citizens out of work. Could we turn that anti-poverty money into employment money?

Let’s say it would cost on average $50,000 dollars to create a job that would offer at least $20,000 in salary, benefits including federal health insurance, and training to succeed on the job. Workers with these jobs to could provide a great boost to repairing the nation’s infrastructure, staffing overworked Veteran’s Administration hospitals, and spending quality time helping youngsters in day care programs.

Fifteen million more people helping out. Sounds great, right? Could we afford it? Multiply $50,000 by 15 million and you get $750 billion–roughly what we already spend on ant-poverty programs.

This type of program could be authorized by presidential directive today, under the existing Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, informally known as the Humphrey-Hawkins Act. Representative Conyers of Michigan has proposed the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act to create exactly this type of full employment.

Some people may despair that this sounds like the employment programs of the Great Depression such as the Works Projects Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Surely the U.S. isn’t as bad off now as it was in 1930?

For some groups in the U.S., the answer is yes–we are as bad off now. Trying finding a living wage job as a young African-American male with just a high school diploma. Or even worse, without a diploma.

The WPA and the CCC created large portions of the public infrastructure that we enjoy today, including our energy transmission system and our national parks. Maybe it’s time for another, similar effort to employ everyone towards a better country for the next 80 years.

Your tax dollars already go to these programs. Would you rather give someone payments or a paycheck?

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