A REPORT TO DONORS, SUPPORTERS AND FRIENDS By Trudy Goldberg, Chair, NJFAC
The Continuing Jobs Crisis: For years NJFAC has called attention to the chronic unemployment that blights the lives of millions of individuals and families, even in the best of times. We have been deeply concerned about this problem — even in times of relatively low official unemployment.
For example, in 2000, when the official unemployment rate reached 3.9% and was at its lowest in 30 years, there were still 13 million people who wanted jobs but couldn’t find them.Â These included the officially unemployed, those who were forced to work part-time though they wanted full-time work, and those who wanted work but were not counted officially because they weren’t actively searching. Although the chronic problem broadly affects many types of workers, it’s far worse for African Americans, the young, and people with disabilities. For example, in 2000, official unemployment for African Americans was 7.6% — higher than the present general unemployment rate that we consider a continuing crisis. Over the last fifty years since civil rights marchers demanded jobs for all and a living wage in 1963, high unemployment has been the dominant reality for African Americans, even in periods of so-called economic recovery.
The November 2013 report of the Labor Department registers the high unemployment rate that is becoming a “new norm.” Official unemployment-just the people who are earning less than $1 a week in paid employment and actively searching for work-is 7.0%, numbering 11 million people. Another 13.3 million are either forced to work part-time because they can’t find full-time work or want a job but aren’t actively looking.
Following the October 2013 employment report, Paul Krugman, New York Times economic columnist and Nobel Laureate in Economics, wrote:
Five years and eleven months have now passed since the U.S. economy entered recession. Official unemployment remains high, and it would be much higher if so many people hadn’t dropped out of the labor force. Long-term unemployment . is four times what it was before the recession
These dry numbers translate into millions of human tragedies-homes lost, careers destroyed, young people who can’t get their lives started. (“The Mutilated Economy New York Times, November 8, 2013).
The damage doesn’t stop with losses to individuals and burdens to families. The economy suffers long-term damage-lost potential output, atrophy of skills and work habits, reduced business investment as a result of weak sales, and the consequent reduction in business starts and in research and development. High unemployment, moreover, is a drag on wages. In 2012, 18 million people – or nearly one out of every five workers – worked full-time, year-round yet earned less than the poverty level for a family of four ($23,050 in 2012).
NJFAC’S PROGRAM. We work to overcome unemployment and low wages-and the many social problems it causes. Our chief approaches are:
- Public Education regarding the magnitude of this problem, its grim effects, its causes, and how it can be solved
- Developing Policy Solutions to the problem of unemployment and related ills
- Organizing and Outreach to other people and organizations, to promote policy solutions to the jobs crisis, including organizing actions and events on the grassroots level
PUBLIC EDUCATION. Our public education is accomplished through articles, publications and presentations to community and academic audiences that cut through the misinformation and disinformation put out by media pundits and too many of our politicians. Our much-visited website in a source of excellent information and is widely recognized as a trove of valuable data and analysis about jobs, the economy, and policy solutions to mass unemployment. We are completing the redesign of our website to facilitate easier access to our information and promote greater engagement by users.
NJFAC has striven to overcome a major impediment to the solution of unemployment: the fact that the public is not aware that it is perfectly possible to overcome this problem. For a number of years NJFAC has insisted that our roads need repair, our bridges are dangerously eroding, children need more teachers, working parents lack affordable child care, millions lack health care, and the very existence of our planet demands conversion of our energy system to green. And we have proclaimed:
All these needs can and should be met by federal action-as was done during the 1930s when the New Deal put millions to work doing useful jobs that have made a lasting contribution to our country-roads, bridges, schools, libraries, housing, parks, arts, culture and much more. These jobs, we maintain, partially pay for themselves because workers with decent jobs pay more in taxes and don’t need unemployment compensation or food stamps. Tax revenues from corporations, banks and other who have benefited from bailouts and economic recovery without doing their part to create jobs can pay for the remaining costs. We must convince the public that an updated New Deal model-paying living wages and treating all jobless workers fairly-is well within the competence of our country-one far richer than it was when the Roosevelt administration put millions of desperate, unemployed people to work in the service of the nation.
We are appalled at the loss of lifeline benefits for over a million jobless workers-and several million more who would otherwise be eligible in 2014. These benefits should, of course, be restored, but NJFAC believes the New Deal model for job creation is a preferable policy for extended unemployment. Persons out of work for extended periods of time should have the opportunity to work and to collect a paycheck, and a nation with so many unmet needs should have the benefit of their services.
POLICY SOLUTIONS. We compile lists of pending policy and legislative proposals for job creation, and we make these widely available. We’ve reached out to labor, community and religious organizations all over the country with our information.
Contributing to NJFAC’s goal of convincing the public that government job creation is a solution to unemployment is a new piece in our Uncommon Sense series: “We Need a WPA for Our Time” by Nancy Rose, author of Put to Work: The WPA and Public Employment in the Great Depression. Rose, Professor Emerita of Economics at California State University at San Bernardino, writes that continuing high levels of unemployment call for a large-scale job creation programs like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s. Conventional wisdom often dismisses government job creation as inefficient or “make work” and a waste of taxpayers’ money. But Rose’s detailed evaluation tells a different story. Public employment programs are part of our U.S. heritage. Rose shows how past programs worked and can be adapted to 21st century needs, enhance living standards and provide decent-paying jobs for the unemployed. “We Need a WPA for Our Time” is available on the NJFAC website.
NJFAC successfully proposed language that has been incorporated into HR 1000, the 21stÂ Century Full Employment and Training Act, introduced by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., (D-MI), This transformative federal legislation embodies the NJFAC view that unemployment is curable by government action. HR1000 would create a national public service jobs program to complement job creation efforts in the private and nonprofit sectors. The aim of this bill is full employment: to provide a job to any American who seeks work, and to ultimately create a full employment society.
NJFAC focuses on the problem of unemployment but has long been concerned with the strength of workplace benefits like social security and unemployment insurance. Particularly in the absence of full employment-but necessary even with it, are programs that offset low wages like Food Stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Thus, in the spring of 2013, NJFAC responded to the “fiscal cliff” problem with a statement and a leaflet that it continues to distribute: The so-called “fiscal cliff” is a manufactured “emergency” designed by conservative deficit hawks to shrink government, destroy public sector unions, and erode the social safety net. After calling attention to the cuts or threatened rollback to Unemployment benefits, Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and Housing Assistance, NJFAC countered: “NOT MORE BELT TIGHTENING, but DIRECT GOVERNMENT JOB CREATION. Calling for no more cuts is a weak response. WE MUST DEMAND JOBS!”
ORGANIZING AND OUTREACH . NJFAC both initiates public events and actions and joins with like-minded organizations to spread the word:
Expanding our Network: NJFAC’s part-time community organizer, Logan Martinez, has been expanding our network with labor, community and anti-poverty activists all over the country, particularly in regard toÂ jobs legislation. We are planning local actions and events aimed at putting jobs issues on the front burner where they belong. We ask you to be in touch with Logan (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let him know about your jobs-for- all actions or to connect you with such advocacy in your area. We need your help to keep this important organizer in the field.
Memorial March on Washington. NJFAC endorsed the Washington March on August 24, 2013 commemorating the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom. We prepared a special leaflet for the march, Our Jobs Crisis and the March on Washington, that was distributed at the march by NJFAC members. June Zaccone of the NJFAC Executive Committee represented us on the Steering Committee of the Laborfightback Network and drafted their jobs and freedom demand for the March (available at http://www.laborfightback.org/index.htm .).
It’s sad to realize that the economic demands of 50 years ago remain unmet and that unemployment is much higher now than in the 1960s. Furthermore, civil rights gains are challenged, notably by the recent Supreme Court decision curtailing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as the severe incursions on affirmative action.
A 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights. Along with the Columbia University Seminars Program, the Roosevelt Institute, The Nation, Demos, Dollars and Sense, the Workers’ Defense League and several other organizations, NJFAC co-sponsored a conference at Columbia University on October 18 in New York City entitled, A 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights. In the mid-1940s, recognizing that wartime government spending had created full employment, President Roosevelt, in his annual message to conference proposed a Second or Economic Bill of Rights guaranteeing the right to useful work at wages that would provide food, clothing and recreation; protection against unemployment and economic insecurity in old age; good education, decent housing; and adequate medical care. This Economic or Second Bill of Rights was needed, according to Roosevelt, because “The political rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”
The Conference was planned and organized by Sheila Collins, Helen Ginsburg and Trudy Goldberg, co-chairs of the Columbia University Seminar on Full Employment, Social Welfare and Equity (who also serve on the Executive Committee of NJFAC). The keynote speaker was Representative John Conyers, Jr. Leading economists, academics, trade unionists and journalists spoke about the means of achieving what FDR considered “the paramount right” to employment. NJFAC is considering a project that would further public recognition of the necessity of economic rights and the demand for what Roosevelt held to be the “paramount right”-the right to useful, living-wage work. In a paper delivered at the conference, Goldberg and Collins developed a scorecard on the extent to which the rights proposed by FDR have been assured, and made the case for some additional ones needed in a 21st Century Bill of Economic Rights – notably collective bargaining rights, security in childhood, and a sustainable environment. See “A 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights: A Score Card and A Proposal,” at 21st Century-Economic Bill of Rights
We continue to accomplish our goals because of your continued financial support for this work. To all who have recently donated to support NJFAC!! THANK YOU for making this critically important work possible!! And if you haven’t given yet–please support us now.Â As we pointed out in our recent appeal letter, NJFAC has never had the ample funding that we really need to do this important work. Every aspect of our work could be productively expanded — public education, policy analysis, and outreach and organizing. Will you please give a generous gift of $50, $100, $250, $500 or more to help support our work? Or make an introduction to other donors or funders you know? All gifts to NJFAC are tax-deductible. You can contribute through our website, Donate! , or send your check to NJFAC, Box 96, Lynbrook, NY 11563.
Thanks very much for your continuing help and support!