Full Employment History

Full Employment: An Idea with a History and a Future.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union Message, 1944 [See text below]

To Build a Nation and a People: FDR and the WPA, Woolner, 4/13

Legacy Lessons

Brother Can You Spare a Dime [Yip Harburg] Dr.John & Odetta

United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 12/10/1948

The Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (1978)

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963 [See photo and demands below]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, State of the Union Message to Congress, 1944

The Economic Bill of Rights

This republic had its beginning and grew to its present strength under the protection of certain inalienable political rights…. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our nation has grown in size and stature, however–as our industrial economy expanded–these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence…. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:

  • the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • the right of every farmer to raise and sell his (sic) products at a return which will give his family a decent living;
  • the right of every business man, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • the right of every family to a decent home;
  • the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age and sickness and accident and unemployment;
  • the right to a good education….

Annual Message on the State of the Union, 1945, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, V. 13, Victory and the Threshold of Peace, 1944-45, compiled by Samuel I. Rosenman.[NY: Russell & Russell, 1950), 503-505

I said then, and I say now, that these economic truths represent a second bill of rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all–regardless of station, race, or creed.

Of these rights the most fundamental, and one on which the fulfillment of the others in large degree depends, is the “right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation.”….

We have had full employment during the war. We have had it because the Government has been ready to buy all the materials of war which the country could produce–and this has amounted to approximately half our present productive capacity.

After the war we must maintain full employment with Government performing its peacetime functions. This means that we must achieve a level of demand and purchasing power by private consumers–farmers, businessmen, workers, profssional men, housewives–which is sufficienty high to replace wartime Government demands; and it means also that we must greatly increase our export trade above the prewar level.

Our policy is, of course, to rely as much as possible on private entrprise to provide jobs. But the American people will not accept mass unemployment or mere makeshift work. There will be need for the work of everyone willing and able to work–and that means close to 600,000 jobs.

Full employment means not only jobs–but productive jobs. Americans do not regard jobs that pay substandard wages as productive jobs.


Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, December 10, 1948

Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protections of his interests.
Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.



Left to Right: John Lewis, Mathew Ahmann, Floyd B. McKissick, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cleveland Robinson, Joachim Prinz, Joseph Rauh, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph
UPI, August 28, 1963, reprinted in Washington Post, June, 1998

WHAT WE DEMAND (partial list):

7 A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers–Negro and white–on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.

8. A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living.

9. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.

10. A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state, and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.

Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1967), 55.

In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man [sic] of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist. You are in a real way depriving him of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, denying in his case the very creed of his society.