Jobs Programs for Modern Times

I hope that all readers have been doing well during these challenging times. In this post I will explain why I believe the country would benefit from being able to rapidly create large numbers of temporary remote jobs that are well matched to the skills of unemployed workers who need work. [1][2]

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the fact that millions of domestic jobs require workers to physically leave their homes to earn a living. Even with the massive job market turmoil so far, it is still unknown how the crisis will ultimately affect the job market in the long run. As a result of this, Congress should consider preparing to be able to fund the creation of temporary jobs for unemployed remote workers, just in case they are needed either in the near or long term. These emergency jobs should ideally help workers to maintain some workplace skills while safely doing useful tasks for society that provide them with reasonable incomes. Congress may also be able to build on an existing bill like the “Jobs for All Act” (H.R. 1000) to facilitate them. [3][4]

To create these jobs, the government would first ask a group of capable universities and companies to individually propose socially useful projects that can temporarily hire hundreds to thousands of unemployed remote workers, while utilizing their specific skills as closely as possible. It would then fund a select group of high quality proposals, or “jobs programs,” enabling the universities or companies with winning proposals to remotely hire these workers as full time employees. It would also fund the cost of computers and broadband access for hired workers who need them.

These jobs programs would be structured to produce a work product that is either immediately valuable to society, particularly including the private sector, or very likely to be valuable at a later date. Additionally, the long term value to society that the jobs programs provide should go far beyond their potential benefit to any one university or company.

For example, a movie studio might propose hiring one thousand unemployed artists for one month to write new popular screenplays and musical scores for them. [5][6] Alternately, a car manufacturer might propose hiring one thousand unemployed cab drivers for two months to help enhance its car safety systems using driving simulation software. In a more forward looking example, a private space company might propose hiring one thousand unemployed miners for three months to work on simulated asteroid mining scenarios that generate insights for future missions.

In all cases the government would be sponsoring socially beneficial R&D that is primarily driven by skilled workers doing what they do best, resulting in a new knowledge resource for society. [7] As an example of how this might work, a university or company that runs such a jobs program might be given six months after completion of the program to formally present the results to the government in report format, keeping the names of any program participants anonymous as needed. These results could then be released into the public domain six months after this, giving the public access to the valuable new knowledge resource in a year’s time. [8]

Job Creation Diagram

FIG. 1: The proposed emergency job creation approach would be structured to benefit all of society in the long run, and not just the entities that run the jobs programs

Jobs programs of this type would enable newly unemployed workers to do valuable work for society even in situations where they are required to shelter in place for months at a time and no other jobs that pay a living wage are available to them. Society could likewise benefit from any resulting innovations.

Knowledge resource diagram

FIG. 2: Well designed jobs programs could have long lasting social and economic benefits, making it easier for society to approve of similar programs in future emergencies

Fortunately, several prominent tools that can facilitate remote work already exist today, suggesting that these programs should be reasonably feasible. Beyond this, a range of universities and government entities conduct “citizen science” research with the help of remote volunteers, who have contributed to research in fields like astronomy. [9] The government may thus be able to convert some of these research efforts into jobs programs by funding salaries for their remote participants.

Jobs provide significantly greater benefits than income alone to workers, including helping them to maintain and gain important job skills. WPA Administrator Harry Hopkins himself once said, “Give a man a dole, and you save his body and destroy his spirit.  Give him a job and you save both body and spirit.” [10]

Job Creation vs Basic Income Diagram

FIG. 3: For the foreseeable future, alleviating unemployment with focused jobs programs is likely to be far more socially beneficial, and contribute to far higher future living standards, than just paying everyone a basic income.

Guided by these wise words, the country should consider innovative ways to offer remote jobs to unemployed workers who may desperately need them in the months and years ahead. In addition to any economic value that these jobs create or preserve for society, they would also help to reduce the digital divide and serve as sources of encouragement and dignity for many households.

Thank you for reading. Please make sure to read the Disclaimer below.

 

Endnotes

[1] I first discussed virtual reality based public jobs programs (a form of very advanced remote jobs programs) in my 2015 blog article The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2. I also spoke about various iterations of this idea at the 2016 and 2017 Immersive Technology Conferences, and the 2018 Texas Open Innovation Conference.

[2] This CNN article by Ryan Prior, titled “Artists may need a Depression-era jobs program today,” mentions during a section about a discussion with author Nick Taylor that “[economic] programs can be tailored by sector to each person’s individual skills.” I agree with this, and outline a possible way to achieve this in this post.

[3] The “Jobs for All Act” (H.R. 1000) text reference is https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1000/text

[4] The “Job Opportunities for All Act” (H.R. 6485) from the 115th Congress may also be a helpful resource in facilitating these jobs programs. Text reference is https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6485/text

[5] The “Jobs for All Act” (H.R. 1000), SEC. 303 (13) calls for “Programs that emulate the Federal art, music, theater, and writers projects of the Works Projects Administration by providing work for unemployed writers, musicians, artists, dancers and actors on projects that are consistent with the public service and equality-enhancing objectives of this Act.” Quote reference is https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1000/text

[6] The CNN article by Ryan Prior, titled “Artists may need a Depression-era jobs program today,” also discusses jobs programs for artists.

[7] The range of useful temporary jobs that are well matched to people’s skills is limited only by the imagination. This is why government sponsored contests of ideas for jobs programs seem likely to produce both high quality jobs for workers, and high quality results for society. As yet another example, unemployed chefs could be hired to create recipes that are missing certain widely available ingredients, which would make the country well prepared in the unlikely event that there are future shortages of those ingredients.

[8] A one year delay in release of program results into the public domain would likely mean that the university or company running such a jobs program would potentially benefit more than its peers in the short term, even though the work they oversee would ideally benefit all of society in the long term. It would also provide an additional incentive for universities and companies to compete to run such jobs programs.

[9] See for example this link, this link and this link.

[10] Harry Hopkins was the Administrator of the Great Depression era Works Progress Administration (WPA), which hired millions of workers during a time of great difficulty for the country. Quote reference is The Great Depression by Robert McElvaine (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), page 265, and the same quote is also mentioned at: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/surviving-the-dust-bowl-works-progress-administration-wpa/

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