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Economic Justice Coalition Launches ‘Full Employment For All’ Campaign

Above Photo: Leaders of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom march with signs; from right to left: Rabbi Joachim Prinz, an unidentified man, Eugene Carson Blake, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Floyd McKissick, Matthew Ahmann, and John Lewis. Robert W. Kelley / LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

“A Federal Program Of Subsidized Employment Would Empower Workers, Strengthen Communities, And Move Us Toward A More Equitable Economy For Everyone.”

In an effort to “create an economy of full employment for all regardless of race, gender, or religion,” 10 leading U.S. economic advocacy groups on Monday launched a new campaign calling for a federally subsidized jobs program targeting communities plagued by high unemployment.

The Full Employment for All campaign is timed to coincide with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday and the 60th anniversary year of King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Just as King’s indictments of U.S. capitalism and militarism are often overlooked, omitted, or overshadowed by his civil rights work, the full name and purpose of the August 1963 demonstration—the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—have been eclipsed by the iconic speech he delivered there. A year before his April 1968 assassination—which happened while he was supporting striking Black Memphis sanitation workers—King wrote that “we must create full employment or we must create incomes.”

In 1963, the national unemployment rate was about 5% for white Americans but nearly 11% for Blacks. That disparity has remained remarkably consistent to this day, and shows that communities of color face high unemployment even during periods of low overall joblessness. These people are the focus of Full Employment for All.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which is spearheading the new campaign, asserted:

Everyone who wants to work should be able to find a job, but this is not the case today. Although the official statistics indicate that we are in a period of historically low unemployment, there are still millions of people who are willing to work but are not able to find a job. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that there are about 15 million people who are unable to find work. This joblessness is not uniformly distributed across the country but [is] concentrated in the most disadvantaged communities. A targeted federal program for subsidized employment could create jobs and economic growth in these communities that have been left behind.

“Like in 1963, national employment numbers are relatively high, but those aggregate numbers can be deceiving,” Algernon Austin, CEPR’s director of race and economic justice, said in a statement Monday. “Black unemployment remains roughly double that of white workers nationwide, and regional unemployment rates for white workers in Appalachia, Latinos in the southwest, and among Native Americans remain persistently high.”

“Only a federally funded and long-lasting subsidized employment program can adequately solve these disparities,” Austin added. “We have a historic opportunity to reach Dr. King’s goal of full employment, and on this anniversary year we expect this dream to become a reality.”

Federally subsidized employment programs have a track record of success from the Works Progress Administration and other New Deal initiatives meant to combat the Great Depression to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, enacted during the last major recession.

“Decades of evidence show us that subsidized jobs work: they help pull people back into the labor market and increase economic security, especially for people facing systemic barriers to employment, such as Black and Brown workers,” said Kali Grant and Natalia Cooper of the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality, one of the 10 Full Employment for All participants. “A federal program of subsidized employment would empower workers, strengthen communities, and move us toward a more equitable economy for everyone.”

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