A Federal Job Guarantee: The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of who suffers first and worst when the job market falters. Our most marginalized workers are always the last to be hired and the first to be laid off – a reality made worse by crises. Nearly 2.4 million women retired from working life in the last year of the pandemic. This amazing number is made up of a disproportionately large number of black and brown women. For these women in particular, it could take years to recover from this financial setback.

The need for a Federal job guarantee couldn’t be more urgent. A federal job guarantee would pave the way to stable unionized employment with living wages for marginalized workers who are constantly discriminated against. A federal job guarantee would begin to close racial and gender income and wealth gaps while meeting the long-neglected needs of the community, physical and social infrastructure. For this reason, Rep. Pressley, in collaboration with community organizers, activists and experts, unveiled H.Res 145 in February calling on the federal government to guarantee “a legally enforceable right to fair, dignified and adequately paid employment” for all eligible persons who live in the United States. ”

Our work builds on the shoulders of the many activists who saw an enforceable right to quality work in the public sector as an integral part of the fight for civil and human rights. The Federal Job Guarantee Resolution continues a long, but all too often unheralded tradition of black women who have shaped the history of business and public policy. For the past eighty years, black women have been at the forefront of demanding full and fair employment. Our collective works seek to carry the torch boldly lit by justice seekers and civil rights icons Sadie Alexander, Ella Baker, and Coretta Scott King.

In the 1940s, the country’s first black economist, Sadie Alexander, insisted that full employment was the key solution to economic injustice. Alexander knew that our nation had the ability and potential to achieve full employment, and he justified that simple and clear: “If full employment … could be achieved for the destructive ends of war, why can we not join together to achieve it for the constructive ends of peace?”

It was no coincidence that activist energy came together around a job guarantee after the Great Depression and World War II. The parishes had seen the Works Progress Administration bring life to their neighborhoods and cities. The Civilian Conservation Corps planted billions of trees; the Office of Price Administration managed inflation during a wartime. Far-reaching economic goals were set and achieved – but the promise of the New Deal and post-WWII economy lagged far behind as colored communities and people with disabilities were systematically left out.


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