Bernie Sanders thinks so. So does Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand. And according to a Rasmussen poll earlier this week, so do almost half of all Americans. Forty-six percent of respondents support government-guaranteed jobs for everyone, although the wording leaves the kind of job somewhat ambiguous:
Senator Bernie Sanders is looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election with a proposed federal government program that guarantees all Americans a job with health insurance. Nearly half of voters like the idea.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 46% of Likely U.S. Voters favor a proposal to create a federal jobs program that would guarantee every American at least a $15-an-hour job with health benefits. Forty percent (40%) are opposed, while 15% are undecided.
The question did not identify the proposal with Sanders or mention that it has the support of fellow Democratic Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Cory Booker.
Sanders had announced his plan two weeks ago, about a week before the poll results from Rasmussen. The poll question does not mention the nature of the job itself, but Sanders’ proposal would guarantee everyone a government job:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will announce a plan for the federal government to guarantee a job paying $15 an hour and health-care benefits to every American worker “who wants or needs one,” embracing the kind of large-scale government works project that Democrats have shied away from in recent decades.
Sanders’s jobs guarantee would fund hundreds of projects throughout the United States aimed at addressing priorities such as infrastructure, care giving, the environment, education and other goals. Under the job guarantee, every American would be entitled to a job under one of these projects or receive job training to be able to do so, according to an early draft of the proposal.
And of course, Sanders proposed this without having a clue what it would cost:
A representative from Sanders’s office said they had not yet done a cost estimate for the plan or decided how it would be funded, saying they were still crafting the proposal.
Let’s not forget that Sanders is also still pushing his Medicare For All single-payer health care plan, which came in at almost $10 trillion in extra spending in its first ten years. These aren’t math whizzes. They’re really good at proposing massive spending increases and expansions of the state, but not anywhere near as good at finding the money for it.
This context matters in interpreting this poll, which was widely seen (and framed by Rasmussen) as a signal of receptivity among American voters to Sanders’ proposal. The difference between merely assuming responsibility for job creation and guaranteeing a government job is no small amount of nuance [see update]. If respondents were clear on that context, it seems unlikely in the extreme that 36% of Republicans and also 36% of conservatives would have supported a massive expansion of government just to get a job. The number of independents opposed to the idea would likely have been far greater than the 50% shown in Rasmussen’s crosstabs, too, and it’s possible that more Democrats would oppose that idea than just the 21% in this sample.
Even without that issue, though, this points out a sloppiness we have seen in American politics for decades in regard to job creation. Presidents of both parties claim to have “created jobs,” and candidates for that position routinely argue that they can create more jobs than their opponents. Congress isn’t immune from this either, but the only jobs they can create are government jobs. Economic policies can hamper or incentivize job creation, especially tax policy, but it’s still an indirect impact. They set the table — they don’t put food on it.
Job creation comes from businesses that succeed, create capital, and expand, at least the kind of job creation that actually lifts economies. Government jobs suck the necessary capital for organic job creation away from the economy. Some of that is a necessity to keep the system running properly, but a massive jobs program in the public sector will inevitably drain economic resources away from the private sector. That will leave more people out of work and dependent on government — if not for welfare, then for work. That’s an ugly cycle, one which will be much tougher to break than to start.
Maybe the first step we can take to avoid this is to dispense with the notion that politicians create jobs. Except for paid campaign staffer positions, they don’t. When we remember that, we can then realize that government jobs “guarantees” are only valid for big-government, prosperity-draining environments.
Update: On second thought, the nuance might be a little narrower than I initially credited. Here’s the question: “Favor/Oppose: a proposal to create a federal jobs program that would guarantee every American at least a $15-an-hour job with health benefits?” So yes, it’s a federal program, and with a specific compensation guarantee. That’s not the same as saying that these are government jobs, as Sanders’ proposal explicitly does. But that’s probably close enough for people to lean toward that assumption.