U.S. Jobs Guarantee Held Out as Path to True `Full Employment'

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. program that guarantees jobs for the unemployed would attract about 15 million people even amid the lowest jobless rate since 2000, helping bring the economy to true full-employment status, according to a left-leaning group of academics.

The cost, in terms of adding to the federal budget deficit, would be as much as $378 billion annually in the first five years and $415 billion each of the following five years, according to the paper released Tuesday by researchers including Stephanie Kelton, a former economic adviser for 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. That’s assuming the program started in the first quarter of this year, offered $15-an-hour wages plus health insurance and childcare, and ran for a 10-year forecast period.

It’s unclear how much support the proposition -- in a similar vein as universal health care -- will gain, especially among Democrats seeking new economic messages and policy ideas after President Donald Trump won in 2016 in part by targeting those left behind in the labor market. The U.S. unemployment rate, 4.1 percent in March, has prompted some economists to say the market is operating at or near full employment, though millions of Americans remain jobless or unsatisfied with a part-time position.

The headline unemployment figure only includes those who’ve looked for jobs in the last month. A broader rate -- including people who have searched in the past year or are working part time and prefer full-time work -- is at 8 percent. The report goes further, calculating a rate of 10.2 percent that includes Americans who want a job but haven’t looked for one in the last year.

The job guarantee “is an idea whose time has come,” the researchers including Randall Wray, Flavia Dantas, Scott Fullwiler, Pavlina Tcherneva and Kelton wrote in the report issued by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in New York. “True full employment is both achievable and sustainable.”

Inspired by the New Deal programs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, possible jobs under the modern program would include cleaning up vacant lots, tending to community gardens and helping run arts productions, according to the report.

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