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Historical Amnesia: The Humphrey-Hawkins Act, Full Employment and Employment as a Right*


Economist William A. Darity has proposed a federal job guarantee with decent wages for all job seekers, an idea with deep, but largely forgotten, roots in US history.The article briefly explores some New Deal job-creation efforts and President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights. It then focuses on two major attempts to secure full employment through legislation. The Full Employment Bill of 1945 was defeated; the compromise, the Employment Act of 1946 did not have full employment as its goal. After years of struggle, a much-weakened Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 passed, but then was violated and virtually ignored. Full employment shifts power from capital to labor, so major opposition can be expected from efforts to obtain it. Proponents need more power and a strong movement, including at the grassroots level, pushing for jobs for all--not just jobs for me or my group. Publicizing the benefits of past job programs and reintroducing the idea of a decent-paying job as a right are suggested, as well as making decent jobs for all the center of economic policy. This requires a fundamental break with neoliberalism and reallocating political power away from big business and Wall Street toward middle and working-class people and the working- and non-working poor.

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  1. Karl Marx, writing in the 19th century, believed that unemployment was an inherent part of capitalism that helped to keep down wages--and that unemployment could only be ended with capitalism’s downfall. So Keynes was also implicitly challenging Marx’s view.

  2. For more information and discussion of the forms and extent of discrimination, see [(Bernstein 1985 p 156–157, 286–289; Franklin 1969 p 534–560; Rose 2009)].

  3. Official unemployment statistics for the Depression era count people working on job-creation programs as unemployed. Unemployment rates would appear smaller if they had been counted as employed.

  4. Much of what follows on the Full Employment Bill of 1945 and the Employment Act of 1946 relies heavily on the comprehensive legislative history of the Employment Act of 1946 by Bailey (1950).

  5. Under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, the Federal Reserve System must explain to Congress semiannually how it is gearing its policies to further the goals of full employment and reasonable price stability. The Chairman of the “Fed” is currently questioned twice a year at Congressional hearings.


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Correspondence to Helen Lachs Ginsburg.

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This is a substantial expansion and revision of a presentation at the October 1, 20l0 Howard University Economics Department Conference on Jobs and the Future of the US Economy: Possibilities and Limits, Parts of it draw from my book: Full Employment and Public Policy: the United States and Sweden (1983). My thanks to Professor Haydar Kurban and graduate students at Howard University and to Professors Gertrude S. Goldberg of Adelphi University and Frank Stricker of California State University-Dominguez Hills for various forms of invaluable support.

I want to thank the organizers of this conference for bringing us together on a critical issue. Hopefully, the conference is just the beginning of a continuing dialogue among people striving to put the need for jobs and how to create them on center stage.

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Ginsburg, H.L. Historical Amnesia: The Humphrey-Hawkins Act, Full Employment and Employment as a Right*. Rev Black Polit Econ 39, 121–136 (2012).

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  • Full employment
  • Jobs proposals
  • The Humphrey- Hawkins act
  • New Deal job creation
  • The employment act of 1946
  • Employment as a right
  • CETA