The Basics

What does a job guarantee mean?

A job guarantee means that the US government would guarantee that every working-age person has access to a job. Importantly, our proposal ensures that all guaranteed jobs are good jobs with dignified wages, safe working conditions, health care and other benefits, and full worker rights including union protections. The jobs would be public jobs that are on projects delivering public benefits. Our proposal secures this guarantee for workers by making it a legally enforceable right and a permanent program funded directly by the US Treasury via legislation. If enacted, the job guarantee would become a permanent government program akin to social security.

How would a job guarantee advance racial, economic, and social equity?

A job guarantee would increase racial, economic, and social equity by expanding economic opportunity for people of color and low-wage workers who’ve been excluded from the labor market or trapped in jobs that don’t pay family-supporting wages or provide dignified working conditions. It would eliminate involuntary unemployment, which disproportionately affects Black, Latinx, and other workers who face discrimination in the labor market. By guaranteeing full-time work, a job guarantee would also reduce underemployment (working part-time when full-time work is desired or wanting to work but discouraged from job searching), which is highest for Black and Latinx workers. And by guaranteeing a job that pays at least $15 per hour and offers full benefits, a job guarantee would reduce racial and economic inequities in wages, employer-sponsored health care, and other benefits. Establishing a new, higher standard for wages and benefits would have reverberating positive impacts for all low-wage workers, reducing economic insecurity as well as inequality. In addition, a job guarantee would increase gender equity, since women (especially women of color), are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and earn lower wages than men for the same work, in addition to performing the majority of uncompensated or undercompensated care labor. A job guarantee would also reduce geographic inequity by bringing jobs and income to distressed economies.

How would the program ensure the jobs created are socially useful?

Job guarantee jobs would be designed to meet the urgent and often long-neglected environmental and care needs of communities. Projects would be determined based on national priorities (e.g. addressing the public health challenge posed by Covid-19, building a qualified care workforce, fighting climate change, and ensuring broadband access for all) as well as local priorities put forth by communities. National projects would be targeted to places that have experienced high unemployment, economic distress, and historical disinvestment. Racial equity and ecological sustainability would also be key criteria for project selection.

Who Benefits, and How?

Would all job guarantee workers earn the same wages?

While all job guarantee workers would earn a base wage of at least $15 per hour and a comprehensive set of benefits, supplementary wage premiums would be available to job guarantee workers based on experience, credentials, supervisory responsibilities, and/or regional or industry-specific prevailing wage laws.

Who would be eligible?

All adult residents ages 18 and over would be eligible for full-time or part-time employment. Youth ages 16 and 17 would be eligible for part-time employment, to provide income-earning opportunities while encouraging youth to remain in school.

What compensation would workers receive?

Job guarantee workers would earn no less than $15 per hour, adjusted on a regular basis to ensure a rising standard of living. Benefits would include: health insurance consistent with that provided to existing federal government employees, paid sick days, paid family leave, and vacation. Workers would be protected against discrimination and harassment by revitalized federal labor law and a robust Worker Bill of Rights. Workers’ data would be protected and their privacy respected, and any creative, scientific, artistic, or cultural works produced by workers would be made open and available for public use. They would also receive supportive services (such as child care and transportation assistance) as needed to access jobs and fulfill job responsibilities.

How would a job guarantee serve workers who’ve been excluded from the mainstream labor market?

A job guarantee would provide gainful employment to segments of the workforce that often face discrimination in the mainstream labor market, including people who have criminal records or have been incarcerated, transgender people, people with disabilities, people with negative credit histories, people who are homeless, the long-term unemployed, people of color, and people with limited English proficiency. Job guarantee workers could also access critical supports that enable people to work, such as child care and transportation assistance. The job guarantee program would be proactively promoted in communities with high unemployment, and would provide dedicated placement assistance and ongoing support to program workers who have faced barriers to employment.

Would workers have access to skill-building and educational opportunities?

Yes. All workers would be provided with on-the-job training and access to additional skill-building and training opportunities offered by the program office. The program would also offer formal apprenticeships that include technical instruction, coursework, mentorship, and industry-recognized credentials in addition to on-the-job training. These skill-building and educational opportunities would prepare workers to access higher-paying jobs within the program as well as job opportunities outside the program in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.

Would all job guarantee workers earn the same wages?

All job guarantee workers are guaranteed a base wage of at least $15 per hour and a comprehensive set of benefits. In addition, workers would be eligible for supplementary wage premiums based on experience, credentials, education, supervisory responsibilities, collective bargaining agreements, and/or regional or industry-specific prevailing wage laws.

Could job guarantee workers be fired?

Every effort will be made to accommodate workers’ needs and circumstances to ensure they can be successful on the job and remain in the job guarantee program. This includes providing them with adequate due process, including the opportunity to dispute any disciplinary action with a pre-termination evidentiary hearing process, as well as an oversight committee staffed by job guarantee employees. 

In addition, the job guarantee program would include structures to support employee success and development, incentivize strong performance, and ensure a safe and welcoming work environment. For example, workers could increase their wages as they gain experience or credentials or become supervisors -- incentivizing good performance. Also, since the jobs would deliver on critical needs in workers’ local communities, workers would have a vested interest in their success.

Job guarantee workers who persistently fail to meet basic performance standards, or who threaten others’ safety, could be fired from their current job. However, such workers would still retain their legal right to a job, just as a student who is expelled from a particular school retains their right to an education. In such instances, it would be the government’s responsibility to provide access to appropriate work opportunities and support services to honor that person’s right to a job without threatening other people’s safety or undermining public works.

Could job guarantee workers join a union?

Yes. Job guarantee workers could join the unions that represent local public sector or industry-specific workers and help determine their specific working conditions, and they could also join a union for job guarantee workers to negotiate for better pay and benefit standards for all job guarantee workers.

Would the job guarantee starting wage be the same everywhere? What about high-cost cities/states?

The base wage provided by the federal government would be the same everywhere, but local and state governments could top off the federal base pay to adjust for cost of living. In addition, worker benefits and supplementary wage premiums would be adjusted based on regional needs.

Would undocumented immigrants be eligible for the program?

A true job guarantee  must be available to all U.S. residents, including undocumented immigrants. However, current federal immigration law prohibits the hiring of undocumented immigrants. Consequently,comprehensive immigration reformis a crucial corollary to fully realizing the vision of a job guarantee. We look forward to continuing to work with the immigrant justice community on issues of inclusion, safety, and equity.

Projects & Administration

What projects would a job guarantee support?

Job guarantee projects would strengthen communities and retool our economy to achieve inclusive prosperity. They would long-neglected community physical and human infrastructure needs, such as rebuilding neighborhoods, restoring the environment, and delivering quality care for youth and seniors.

Example job guarantee projects include:

  • Ensuring the delivery of high-quality, professional care to children, seniors, and others in need of long-term support in family based, informal, and formal settings
  • Augmenting the staffing of public education and early childhood learning, including Head Start and preschool
  • Strengthening public afterschool programs, libraries, and recreational programs to provide lifelong learning and enrichment for people of all ages
  • Implementing community infrastructure and improvement projects that revitalize neighborhoods such as: vacant and abandoned property cleanup; greening and beautification; community gardening; street and sidewalk repair; remodeling and modernization of schools and other public community-serving facilities; and maintenance and renovation of parks, playgrounds, and public spaces
  • Expanding emergency preparedness, and relief and recovery from natural and community disasters, including public health, fires, floods, and environmental emergencies
  • Producing works of public art and documentation of American history akin to the WPA’s Federal Arts Project
  • Implementing environmental conservation, remediation, and sustainability initiatives and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and housing stock to address climate change
  • Rehabilitating and retrofitting our existing affordable housing stock to ensure safe, affordable, quality homes, and supporting the development of new affordable housing and social housing to address the nation’s housing crisis
  • Other projects that address public needs and can be implemented quickly

What role would the federal government play in administering a job guarantee vis-a-vis local, county, and state governments?

The federal government would have full oversight of the program and would partner with local, county, and state governments to design and implement projects. The Department of Labor would administer the program and work with other agencies, states, and localities to develop an inventory of job guarantee jobs. Local and state governments would work with community-based organizations and residents from marginalized and distressed communities to propose projects that address community needs. Employees would be federally-sponsored and funded, and they would be tasked to projects that are either overseen by local and state agencies or overseen by the federal job guarantee office in their region. To ensure that the job guarantee is available to all workers, including in states that might choose to not participate in the program, concurrent federally-run regional job guarantee offices would be established that directly employ workers on projects that are national priorities.

Has a job guarantee been implemented before? Is there evidence it is effective?

There are forerunners of the Job Guarantee in the US and abroad. The US New Deal in the 1930s provided a blueprint. The Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) programs delivered lasting social and economic benefits. In the late 70s, the Youth Incentive Entitlement Pilot Projects (YIEPP) led to substantial earnings and employment gains for disadvantaged youth. The largest Job Guarantee program in the world, India’s MGNREGA, has become the leading program for conservation efforts in the country. Argentina’s Plan Jefes y Jefas and South Africa’s Expanded Public Works Programme delivered immediate employment relief in the depths of severe economic crises. Today, smaller projects such as the Zero Long Term Unemployment Areas in France are being expanded due to their effectiveness and popularity, and other pilot projects and proposals are being launched in other corners of the world.

Relationship to Other Policies

How would a job guarantee affect other safety-net programs?

A job guarantee would expand the social safety net, creating an additional option for workers, and it would not replace or reduce other social insurance programs. With a job guarantee in place, workers who are unemployed would have the choice of accessing unemployment insurance or taking a job guarantee job. By increasing workers’ incomes, a job guarantee would reduce the need for food stamps, housing assistance, and other safety net programs, without reducing access to those benefits on an individual basis.

How does a job guarantee relate to the Green New Deal?

A job guarantee is a key policy element of the Green New Deal due to its importance in ensuring economic security for all; supporting workers transitioning out of carbon-intensive sectors and into climate-friendly jobs; and delivering on environmental remediation, protection, and energy efficiency projects and infrastructure. The THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Resolution, which provides a framework for addressing the challenges of climate change, racial injustice, and the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, includes a focus on establishing new public employment programs as necessary in order to achieve a true full employment economy, “where every individual who wishes to work has a viable pathway to a meaningful and dignified job with the right to form a union.”

How does a job guarantee relate to the BREATHE Act?

The BREATHE Act is an omnibus policy proposal put forth by the Movement for Black Lives in August 2020 that aims to redirect federal funds away from police and prisons and into resources into disinvested and overpoliced communities of color. The proposal’s economic justice plank includes support for the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act (S. 2457), which would pilot a job guarantee in 15 communities.

How does a job guarantee relate to Universal Basic Income?

Martin Luther King, Jr. called for guaranteed jobs and guaranteed income, and we too believe that both types of policy play important roles in delivering economic security to all, and support a targeted basic income to alleviate poverty as well as cash relief and debt cancellation for individuals struggling during the pandemic. We believe that a job guarantee is superior to a Universal Basic Income for several reasons:

  • A job guarantee provides much more income support for people than proposed UBI policies (which typically call for $1000 per month), thus would have a deeper impact on reducing poverty and working poverty and increasing racial equity by reducing unemployment for BIPOC workers. 

  • In addition to providing employment and income, a job guarantee would produce public goods and deliver critical physical, environmental/natural, cultural, and care infrastructure to frontline and disinvested communities.

  • A job guarantee has more positive macroeconomic effects: it is the only policy that can allow us to achieve true full employment; it is an “automatic stabilizer” that would guard against and moderate downturns; and it is anti-inflationary while UBI is more likely to cause inflation.

  • A job guarantee would transform the labor market, which currently produces great inequities, by creating job opportunities for all including people who face discrimination and exclusion, and by increasing the bargaining power of the most excluded, exploited workers. Income supports do also increase worker power to reject inferior job opportunities, but the impact would be less targeted and spread more thinly.

  • Only a job guarantee would eliminate involuntary unemployment, which is a significant source of racial inequities and detrimental to mental health, happiness, and well-being. As well-being researchers Jan-Emmanuel de Neve and George Ward wrote in Harvard Business Review, “One of the most robust findings in the economics of happiness is that unemployment is destructive to people’s wellbeing.”