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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Anderson BE. Robert Browne and full employment. Review Black Polit Econ. 2008;35:91–101.
Bailey SK. Congress makes a law: the story behind the employment act of 1946. New York: Vintage; 1950.
Baiman R, Barclay W, Hollander S, Persky J, Redmond E, Rothenberg M. A permanent jobs program for the U.S.: Economy. Restructuring to meet human needs. Chicago: Chicago Political Economy Group; February 2009. <www.cpegonline.org>.
Bell C, Ginsburg HL, Goldberg GS, Harvey P, Zaccone. Shared prosperity and the drive for decent work. New York: National Jobs for All Coalition; 2007.
Bernstein I. A caring society: the New Deal, the worker and the Great Depression. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; 1985.
Bernstein J, Baker D. The benefits of full employment: when markets work for people. Washington, D. C.: Economic Policy Institute; 2003.
Beveridge WH. Full employment in a free society. New York: W. W. Norton; 1945.
Bullock P. CETA at the crossroads: employment policy and politics. Los Angeles: University of California: Institute of Industrial Relations. 1981.
Cowie J. The ghost of full employment. The American prospect; 2010: September 29 (web only). Accessed 10/18/2010. www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_ghost_of_full_employment
Darity Jr W. A direct route to full employment. Rev Black Polit Econ. 2010;37:179–81.
Forstater M. “ Jobs for all’: another dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Forum for social economics”: (2002 Spring) 3l(2).
Franklin JH. From slavery to freedom: a history of Negro-Americans. New York: Random House; 1969.
Friedman M. The role of monetary policy. Presidential address. Am Econ Rev. 1968;58:1–17.
Galbraith JK. Created Unequal: the crisis in American pay. New York: The Free Press; 1998.
Ginsburg H. Unemployment, subemployment and public policy. New York: New York University School of Social Work, Center for Income Maintenance Policy; 1975.
Ginsburg H. Full employment and public policy: the United States and Sweden. Lexington: Lexington Books; 1983.
Ginsburg H. Down and out: public policies toward the jobless and the disabled. Policy Stud Rev. 1985;4:753–7.
Ginsburg H. Changing concepts of full employment: divergent concepts, divergent goals. Int J Sociol Soc Policy. 1991;11:11–28.
Ginsburg HL, Goldberg GS. Decent work and public investment: a proposal. New labor forum. 2008;7(1):122–33.
Goldberg GS. Full employment and the future of the welfare state. In: Warner A, Forstater M, Rosen S, editors. Commitment to full employment: the economics and social policy of William Vickrey. Armonk: M E Sharpe; 2000. p. 95–113.
Goldberg GS, Collins SD. Washington's new poor law: welfare "reform" and the roads not taken, 1935 to the present. New York: Apex; 2001.
Harvey P. Learning from the New Deal. Camden: Rutgers, School of Law; 2011.
Harvey P. Securing the right to employment: social welfare policy and the unemployed in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 1989.
Harvey P. Direct job creation. In: Warner A, Forstater M, Rosen S, editors. Commitment to full employment: the economics and social policy of William S. Vickrey. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe; 2000. p. 35–54.
Harvey P. Back to work: A public jobs proposal for economic recovery. New York: Demos www.demos.org; 2011.
Hession C, Sardy H. Ascent to affluence: a history of American economic development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon; 1969.
H.R. 50, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975) Committee on Education and Labor. Subcommittee on Equal Opportunities. Print with Amendments. March 20 1975.
H.R. 15476, 93rd Cong. 2nd sess. (1974). the Equal Opportunity and Full Employment Act of 1974, House Committee on Education and Labor, June 19. 1974.
H.R. 50, 94th Cong., 2nd Sess (1976). The Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1976, House Committee on Education and Labor, March 10, 1976.
Keynes JM. The general theory of employment, interest and money. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World; 1936.
Leuchtenburg WE, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940. New York: Harper and Row; 1963.
Mangum G. The emergence of manpower policy. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1969.
Marshall R. The Negro worker. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston; 1969.
Marshall R. Selective employment programs and economic policies. J Econ Issues. 1984;44(1):117–41.
Marshall R, Briggs Jr V. Labor economics: theory, institutions and public policy. 7th ed. Homewood: Irwin; 1989.
NJFAC website www.njfac.org
Nixon RA. The historical development of the conception and implementation of full employment as economic policy. In: Gartner A, Nixon RA, Riessman F, editors. Public service employment: an analysis of its history, problems and prospects. New York: Praeger; 1973. p. 9–27.
PL 304, the Employment Act of 1946, 79th Cong., 2d sess. 1946.
PL 523, the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, 95th Cong., 1978.
Pollin R. 18 million jobs by 2012. The nation, March 8, 2010.
Pollin R. Back to full employment: New Democracy Forum. Boston review.net 2011 (Jan/Feb) 13–18. http://bostonreview.net/BR36.1/pollin.php.
Randolph AP. "Why should we march?" Survey graphic, Nov. 1942:488–489. In: Wish H, editor. The Negro since emancipation. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall; 1964. p. 158–62.
Roosevelt FD. State of the union message. January 11, 1944.
Rose NE. Put to work: the WPA and public employment in the Great Depression. 2nd ed. New York: Monthly Review; 2009.
S. 320 The Full Employment Bill of 1945, as originally introduced. 79th Cong., lst sess. Cited in Bailey S K. Congress makes a law. New York: Vintage; 1950. p. 243–248.
Schantz HH, Schmidt RL. In: Bulmer C, Carmichael Jr JL, editors. Politics and policy: the Humphrey Hawkins story. Lexington: Lexington Books; 1980. p. 25–39.
U. S. Department of Labor. A sharper look at unemployment in U.S. cities and slums. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office; 1967.
U. S. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Report of the national advisory commission on civil disorders. New York: Bantam Books; 1968.
Wray LR. Understanding modern money: the key to full employment and price stability. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar; 1998.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
Ginsburg, H.L. Historical Amnesia: The Humphrey-Hawkins Act, Full Employment and Employment as a Right*. Rev Black Polit Econ 39, 121–136 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12114-011-9121-3
- Full employment
- Jobs proposals
- The Humphrey- Hawkins act
- New Deal job creation
- The employment act of 1946
- Employment as a right