Securing the Right to Work: The History and Future of Job Guarantees

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For over a century, politicians, economists, and activists have struggled to sustainably reduce unemployment. Several policymakers have begun to advocate for a bold solution that has only recently returned to the mainstream of American politics: a federal job guarantee where the government eliminates unemployment through direct job creation for workers excluded from the labor market. Discussions surrounding the program’s practical details, including how it would be structured and how central tradeoffs would be mitigated, have significantly lagged conversations about the guarantee’s macroeconomic principles. This thesis will examine five case studies to identify variables that influence operational success and tradeoffs that must be addressed. These variables and tradeoffs will inform the design of a job guarantee optimized for the United States. Three of the case studies have been implemented: the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the United States, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in India, and Jefes y Jefas de Hogar Desocupados (Jefes) in Argentina. The other two are recent proposals for the United States by Paul et al. (2018) and Tcherneva (2018). Each implemented program was shielded from addressing the difficulties associated with universal coverage because variables specific to its national political-economic environment limited the program’s scope. Furthermore, current proposals neglect significant details like training and rehabilitation and ignore potentially compromising tradeoffs. An optimal guarantee would strike a balance between decentralized and centralized models, empowering local communities to design projects best suited to meet their needs while providing uniform oversight and resources to address disparities and combat discrimination.





Hoffman, Alex (2022). Securing the Right to Work: The History and Future of Job Guarantees. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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