With each passing week, America sets a painful new record: the largest number of job losses since the Great Depression. As of last week, more than 30 million claims had been filed. And while communities across the country are suffering, our leaders in Washington seem stuck on discussing the possibility of insufficient “stimulus” measures as metaphor and model.
As it stands, the primary federal response has been to provide unemployment insurance for those out of work, to give incentives to small businesses to retain employees, and to rely ever more on the Federal Reserve as an instrument of social policy. While valuable, these policy moves leave our republic in the very dire state that COVID-19 has mercilessly exposed: publicly unprepared, socially frayed, economically unjust, and structurally withered. As we outline in a new policy paper, there is a better way.
The current recession is steep and severe, and even under optimistic scenarios, millions of the jobs now lost are not coming back. Meanwhile, any successful test-fueled rush to “reopen” the country and get back to the America of January 2020 will only return us to a world in which, despite low official unemployment rates, four in 10 Americans reported that they could not readily meet an emergency $400 expense, millions were reliant upon gig work without benefits, our infrastructure crumbled, and our government was caught flat-footed in the face of a public health crisis. Such a rush will also likely lead to mass death on a scale beyond what we’ve already seen and is most likely simply impossible to succeed in returning us to the old normal. January 2020 is not a status quo to which we can or should try blindly to return.
Instead, like President Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1940s, we call for a federal job guarantee that would create millions of jobs, end involuntary unemployment, and build out necessary and resilient public infrastructure. Unlike the stimulus ideas that have dominated Washington to date, a direct government hiring initiative would address inequality; build robust capacity in public health, conservation, education, and infrastructure; and provide not just stable jobs, but government capacity to meet the current pandemic and economic crisis as well as the next one.