How Can We Solve the Jobs Crisis?

Targeting workers, the unemployed, and public services won't do it. Help Yes! Magazine find the solutions that will.

At a time when millions of Americans are without work, the political debate has taken a bizarre turn. Instead of discussing how to make the public investments necessary to get Americans back to work, the political right has used the deficit "crisis" to push for cuts in workers' rights and pay, without explaining how the economy can recover if potential consumers are too poor to buy anything. The focus now is on draconian cuts in the social safety net that the unemployed and their families need more than ever and for even less regulation of the finance institutions that brought the economy to its knees.

The left is pressing for more government spending to jump start growth, but that approach has its limits, too. An economy founded on perpetual growth in energy and resource use, consumerism, throwaway products, climate pollution, and depletion of the Earth's biodiversity is a dead end. And even during the boom years of the 1990s, some were accumulating unheard of wealth while others saw incomes stagnate as living wage jobs disappeared.

Yes, we're still in an economic crisis. But no, the answer isn't to throw public sector workers under the bus or abandon our schools, cities, and prospects for a future.

What we need is livelihoods, fairness, and ecological sustainability, which together is our best bet for an economy that can support American families.

There are millions of people with talents, skills, and the desire to work. There is a backlog of work that needs doing: people who need food, homes, and education; communities that need bike lanes, rapid transit, renewable and reliable sources of energy, and rebuilt bridges and water systems. There are empty factories and offices, natural resources, and skilled workers ready to pitch in.

But our economy no longer seems up to the task for putting these elements together.

The problem is not that we're broke. It's that transnational corporations and the extremely wealthy have captured federal government decision-making, skewing policies to allow the exhaustion of the Earth and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of billionaires, while undermining job security for everyone else. Government money floods into unstable big banks and financial institutions, while small businesses, homeowners, state and local governments are left to sink or swim on their own.

Creating sustainable jobs will require restructuring our economy to more equitably share the work and wealth of this country, without destroying the foundation of all economies--the natural world.

How can we do that? The fall issue of YES! Magazine will explore that question:

  • How can communities create and finance green and sustainable jobs? What are the best models for rooted, living-wage, sustainable enterprises? How have communities and work places emerged out of economic crisis?
  • What state, local, and federal policies would be most effective in furthering an economic restructuring that would create sustainable livelihoods? What is the appropriate role of permanent, public sector employment? What policies support local, living economies, and rooted employment, and what sort of movement would we need to build to get there?
  • How can existing jobs be more sustainable, pay living wages, meet real needs, and maybe even allow some democracy on the job? What if we shared the work and spent fewer hours on the job?
  • The cash economy has colonized much of what we once did for ourselves and for one another. What are the best ways to rebuild the informal economy of exchanges and gifts, from child care to elder care, from sharing garden produce to DIY repair and crafts? Can we imagine a society where fewer of us are absorbed in the cash economy, and more of our time is free for taking care of ourselves, family members, and the community?

The political debate as it has played out in Washington, D.C., has taken us in the wrong direction. Yes, we're still in an economic crisis. But no, the answer isn't to throw public sector workers under the bus or abandon our schools, safety net, and environmental protections. The answer is to redeploy our many resources to build an economy that can work for everyone and sustain the ecological systems we depend on. This issue will explore realistic pathways to such an economy.

How have you created livelihoods for yourself or your community in tough times? What creative ideas would other YES! readers want to know about? Comment in the fields below. Or check here for information about how to pitch a story to YES! Please send pitches by May 20, 2011.

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This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.