SYRACUSE, NY – Ursula Rozum, Green Party candidate for NY’s new
24th Congressional district, said today that the right to useful employment is a human right that ought to guaranteed by government.
Standing in the Thornden Park Ampitheatre, built as a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a depression-era public works program, Rozum said, “As we approach Labor Day 2012, we must recommit to putting all unemployed people back to work at a living wage with the right to form and join trade unions for their protection. This Thornden Park Ampitheatre and so many other public works around Syracuse and the entire 24th congressional district are proof that we know how to do this. We’ve done it before. We still benefit from what was built. There is no good reason not to put the unemployed back to work in public works and services when the needs are so great today.”
“We need an updated WPA that guarantees a living-wage job for every unemployed person willing and able to work. If elected, I will go to Congress to fight for a permanent public jobs program where the government is the employer of last resort. Private jobs are good, but public jobs are necessary to ensure full employment. A permanent public jobs program should be part of a Green New Deal that puts unemployed people to work building the sustainable energy and infrastructure systems we need for climate stability and improving the public services that our communities need.”
“It is unacceptable that more than 27 million people are un- and under-employed because there are not enough private jobs for them. That is over 17% of our entire workforce. The rate is more than double that in our inner cities and for people of color, who have had depression-level unemployment for decades. Now, our whole congressional district is plagued with persistent high unemployment and part-time, low-wage under-employment. After decades of accelerating deindustrialization, we were then knocked down another notch by the 2008 banking crisis. At the rate the economy has been creating jobs since then, it will take more than a decade, into the 2020s, before we return to pre-2008 employment rates. An entire generation is losing their shot at the American Dream due to persistent high unemployment. We need a Green New Deal to address the jobs and climate crises with the same urgency with which the New Deal responded to the Depression 80 years ago,” Rozum said.
Rozum explained that the public jobs program she had in mind would have the government guarantee the right to a job by picking up the slack in private sector hiring. She said it would be a permament counter-cyclical program that would raise demand whenever the economy slowed.
“The public jobs would be federally funded but planned and implemented by local cities and counties, as they were in the original WPA,” Rozum explained. “The federal government will fund salaries and benefits for the expanded public work force, while localities will design the projects to be undertaken. Some projects would be public works to fix our broken infrastructure and build ecologically sustainable energy and public transportation systems. Other projects would be public services the community determines are priorities, such as education, child care, and programs for youth and seniors, parks and recreation, and the arts.”
Rozum added, “This public jobs program is not just a temporary economic recovery measure designed to bring us back to pre-recession levels of unemployment. It is a permanent program of guaranteed dignified and gainful employment for all who are willing and able to work. Unemployment offices will become employment offices, with public sector jobs available when private sector employment falls below demand. This strategy assures workers protection from job and income loss without the continued start up costs of a one-shot, anti-recessionary stimulus program.”
Direct Public Job Creation Costs Less Than Indirect Stimulus Programs
Citing studies by Philip Harvey, a Rutgers professor of law and economics, Rozum said the gross cost of the program aimed designed to create 27 million jobs directly and indirectly would be about $800 billion, about the same as the $787 billion Obama stimulus in 2009. But in contrast to the 3 million jobs saved or created by the Obama stimulus under the most optimistic analyses, the direct employment program would create 18 million public jobs and stimulate another 9 million private jobs due to increased demand in the economy from 18 million new public workers.
“The public jobs would pay living wages of between $12 and $18 an hour, depending the job category. They would provide full health care benefits and allow the workers to organize a union by majority card-check recognition,” Rozum said. “These wages and benefits are better than what the 40 percent of the private work force now stuck in poverty-wage, no-benefit employment gets. One purpose of this public jobs program is to set a living-wage floor in the labor market so that private employers have to bring their standards up in order to compete for labor. We agree with President Franklin Roosevelt when he said in introducing minimum wage legislation in 1933, 'No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level – I mean the wages of decent living.'”
Rozum said the first year net cost would be no more than $300 billion when reduced safety net expenditures and increased public revenues are factored in. These net cost adjustments would include reduced unemployment insurance, health care, and other public assistance and increased revenues from increased payroll and income taxes and the sale of some goods and services produced by public workers.
The net cost per year would decline as the economy and private job creation recovered. Rozum said that a 10 year simulation of this program done by Harvey for 1977 to 1986 showed that the public jobs program would pay for itself over the course of a business cycle.
The net cost per job with direct public employment in this WPA-style program would be about $30,000 per job compared to the $225,000 per job under the Obama stimulus based on tax cuts and government contracts, Rozum said.
A Second, Economic, Bill of Rights
“In his State of the Union address in 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a second, or economic, bill of rights, because he felt the political rights guaranteed by the Constitution in the Bill of Rights had ‘proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness,'” said Rozum. “His remedy is as needed today as it was in 1944: an Economic Bill of Rights guaranteeing employment at a living wage, freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, housing, medical care, education, and social security. As a representative in Congress, I will work to fulfill FDR's call for the economic security that is the foundation for individual freedom and independence. “
“The Green Party platform supports the Economic Bill of Rights. The AFL-CIO is campaigning for the Economic Bill of Rights. But the Democratic and Republican platforms say nothing about it. Both the Democrats and Republicans have abandoned consideration of proposals for public jobs to guarantee full employment since the Humphrey-Hawkins full employment bill was gutted before passage in 1978. That is why we need to elect Greens to Congress. Greens will put a public job guarantee back on the public agenda,” Rozum said.
Analysis of the full extent of unemployment, under-employment, and hidden unemployment: http://www.njfac.org/jobnews.html
Philip Harvey studies on public job assurance programs:
“Back to Work: A Public Jobs Proposal for Economic Recovery,” December 2011, http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/Back_To_Work_Demos.pdf
“Learning from the New Deal,” October 2010, http://www.philipharvey.info/newdeal.pdf
Securing the Right to Employment (Princeton University Press, 1989)