The problem: unemployment ruins lives
When I left IBM in the spring of 2007 after seven years with them, and nearly twenty years of success in other high-tech companies before IBM, I had no clue I would never be able to find as good a job again. I was 47 years old and had not pursued an MBA because my career had been going so well. I discovered later that not having an MBA kept me from even being considered for any new position at the corporate level I'd been at. And at 47 and out of the high-tech industry for more than a year, I learned later, I may as well have just quit looking. At that point I was "stale" and not a desirable hire - despite more than twenty five years of experience.
Unfortunately, after having experienced an ever increasing annual salary over the previous twenty five years, my expenses had grown to match that salary. My monthly expenses required more than $8,000 a month just to pay the bills. Within two years I'd burned through all my meager savings and withdrawn all of my considerable 401k in the expectation that I'd get an offer for another equally high-paying job in the next couple weeks. Then the next couple weeks. Then the next couple weeks. I finally had no cash left, not enough income to pay all the expenses, and I lost my house and everything else.
So in hindsight, I'd been fiscally irresponsible by thinking I would always have such a high income and racking up such high monthly expenses. I also quickly became "stale" so no employer wanted to hire me for any position at any company, doing anything. And my job loss only preceded the job losses of millions of other people. An economic downturn in the housing market led to a collapse of the banking system and ultimately with millions of people suddenly with so much less money to spend every month, shopkeepers had no choice but to lay-off more people for lack of business, which led to further reductions in purchases, which led to yet more lay-offs throughout the economy. That's how economic recessions and eventually depressions occur - too few people with too few dollars to trade throughout the economy leads to more people with too few dollars to spend, etc.
How do we stop unemployment from destroying the wealth and lives of Americans?
How do we make multi-generational poverty part of our history, not America's future?
How do we incent every American to be more innovative, more daring, more entrepreneurial, more creative and lead a more fulfilling life?
How do we incent every American to be fiscally responsible?
How can we ensure recently unemployed people do not become "stale", but keep up on their skills and learning, ready to be re-hired?
The solution: the American Jobs program
America doesn't have to be this way. Think about this. What if you knew, no matter what happened to your job, your marriage, your health, as long as you were willing and able to work, you could get a job - guaranteed - providing a living wage with full benefits doing meaningful work in your community? I know what I would have done. I would have never increased my monthly expenses above what that guaranteed job would have paid me - regardless of how much money I would have earned in any other job. And while I've always been a risk-taker, I bet lots of people, knowing they could always fall-back to that guaranteed job, would take a lot more chances with their careers, trying entrepreneurial ventures they would have never risked before for fear of losing everything. (And entrepreneurial ventures are exactly what every society needs to advance - experimentation and failure followed by more experimentation, and eventual success).
As important, people in "guaranteed" jobs would always earn a living wage - enough to hold onto their accumulated possessions and wealth. Especially if they had been fiscally responsible enough to never increase their expenses and debts beyond what the guaranteed job would pay. Twenty years from now, when guaranteed jobs are the norm, it's likely that every kid in the country would be fiscally responsible enough keep from losing it all with a risky venture.
The end result of a job guarantee program? No loss of accumulated wealth from long-term unemployment. No unemployed people going "stale" and becoming permanently unemployable. Most Americans finally becoming fiscally responsible. Many more Americans following their dreams and trying out all those crazy ideas they never would have risked before, likely leading to a renaissance of creativity and innovation in America. And maybe, just maybe, an end to multi-generational poverty in America.
I've tested the idea of a job-guarantee program against a number of real-world situations. You can read about that on a number of old blog posts.
Click here to read an excellent overview of Chartalism, the economic theory behind the job guarantee program.