The employment opportunity that privileged the white male was much more than a job. By the 1960s, growing numbers of white men had employment that gave them steadily rising real earnings, often with decades of tenure at one organization. The “career-with-one-company” (CWOC) that had become the employment norm by the beginning of the 1960s included health insurance and a defined-benefit pension, both funded by the employee’s business corporation or government agency. This white-man’s world constituted the foundation for the “vast ocean of material prosperity” to which Dr. King referred.
To defend the $600 unemployment payments as both morally and economically necessary is not to suggest that the CARES Act is a sufficient solution to our economic problems. Nor, says Pavlina Tcherneva, Associate Professor of Economics at Bard College and a Research Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute and advisor to Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, is the Democratic-led HEROES Act, which would extend the payments through January 2021 if Senate Republicans and the Trump administration would support it. Dr. Tcherneva studies the impact of unemployment on growth, income inequality and public health, and saving people from the hardship that awaits Valerie is the focus of her work. In The Case for a Job Guarantee, which she published this summer, Tcherneva explains how the federal government could provide a living-wage job to anyone who wants one. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation about what the pandemic unemployment payments meant for the economy and how the United States could enact a Job Guarantee.