Guaranteed Public Service Employment
By Wade Lee Hudson
Growing interest in a federally funded public-service job guarantee — as reflected in the Job Guarantee Manifesto — challenges the assumption that avoiding poverty is primarily an individual responsibility. In fact, a personal deficiency is not the main reason workers can’t find a living-wage job.
According to conventional wisdom, the cause for poverty is lack of skill, lack of discipline, or emotional instability. The solution therefore is assumed to be more education and training, better habits, or mental health treatment — so poor people can get a job, gain experience, and find jobs that pay a non-poverty wage.
Based on these assumptions, society only provides minor, stigmatizing relief, claims its apparent lack of compassion is justifiable tough love, and denies any responsibility to prevent poverty. People say to the poor, Get your act together. Climb the ladder.
If you focus only on the individual, there can be some logic to this argument. Any one individual may be able to do more to improve their situation. But if you look at society as a whole, the flaw in the argument is clear. There aren’t enough living-wage jobs for everyone. If one individual finds a living-wage job, countless others can’t get that job. It’s a game of musical chairs.