The Crying Need for a Good Jobs Strategy

The presidential election was a primal scream for good jobs, but many elected officials seem not to have heard it.  It’s time for a simple, common sense reform to address the crying need for family-sustaining employment:  Every public policy that involves employing people should create good jobs. 

Although direct government employment generally pays at least a living wage, the jobs created indirectly by the government often pay workers on the cheap.  It’s time for elected officials at every level to reevaluate this cheaper-is-better approach toward paying workers:

  • Government should be a model employer, and it should demand that its contractors are model employers. Locally, Santa Clara County’s Living Wage policy exemplifies this approach.  It requires County contractors to pay a family-sustaining wage along with basic benefits like paid sick leave and basic rights like the right to organize without intimidation.
  • Contracts for services are not the only tool for government to indirectly create good jobs. When the government buys goods, it should pay attention to how those goods are made.  Government should demand supply chain transparency and should avoid products made with exploited labor.
  • Publicly funded construction work already pays prevailing wages most of the time. But when government provides a subsidy or grants a land use change for private construction, government should require that those projects pay market rate wages to local workers as well.  Right now, developers often bring workers in from out of state, where wages are far lower.  Those developers take taxpayer subsidies, stiff the local workers and undermine the local job market while they’re at it.

Not long ago, government routinely ignored the environmental impact of its decisions.  Now, most government entities take environmental impact into account.  It’s time for a similar approach toward jobs.  The government has tools to create good jobs: service contracts, product purchases and land development decisions.  It should use those tools.

Will a good jobs strategy cost more?  The answer is that we pay one way or another.  Poverty wage jobs make workers dependent on taxpayer-funded government assistance.  Good jobs pay workers more so that they do not need to rely on taxpayer support.  It’s clear which approach is better.  That’s why the people are screaming.

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