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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Solving the Higher Ed Crisis With a Federal Jobs Guarantee

Slate: Raising the Floor, Not Just the Ceiling: To Reform Higher Ed, We Need a Federal Job Guarantee, by Tressie McMillan Cottom (Ph.D. candidate (Sociology), Emory):

100% JobProbably the single best proposal for higher education isn’t a higher-education proposal at all. A federal job guarantee has moved from fringe economic proposal to mainstream consideration. A recent Rolling Stone article may be the general-awareness tipping point, but it isn’t a new idea. For years there has been a steady drumbeat for a wage guarantee that would raise the floor on poverty and economic insecurity. Although you won’t hear much about it from sanitized memorials, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for a guaranteed living wage. A federal job guarantee would reconfigure the emotional and financial cost of going to college. When living-wage jobs are contracting, people are willing to pay a premium for any leg up in the job market. Choosing college out of desperation justifies rising tuitions and predatory for-profit colleges that market themselves as insurance against job insecurity.

Which all explains why a job guarantee, which is usually considered a labor policy, could also be an education policy. The majority of incoming college freshmen are going to college because they want a job—not just any job, but a good job. They are not alone. People weigh the emotional and financial cost of college against how badly they want a good job. Everyone deserves to choose college without desperation shaping their choices. A floor beneath wages could give that freedom to more Americans. Economists Sandy Darity and Darrick Hamilton have gone further, arguing that a job guarantee, if carefully designed, could also reduce racial discrimination in the labor market. African-Americans and Hispanics at every level of educational attainment earn less than white workers. Essentially, a job guarantee would subsidize the competitive price for minority labor. It is difficult to imagine that doing anything but improving the educational returns for minority students.

Bloomberg op-ed:  Why Uncle Sam Can't Guarantee College Grads a Job, by Megan McArdle:

[T]his is a terrible idea. Over two million people are awarded an associate degree or higher every year in the U.S. Let’s somewhat arbitrarily set the price of a “good job” for a recent graduate at $35,000 a year -- the professional school folks will want more, but the associate degree people will probably demand less, and hopefully it all comes out in the wash. Still, that’s at least a $70 billion program we’ve got here.

Of course, only 53 percent of college grads are underemployed or unemployed. So maybe it’s only a $35 billion a year program. But then, that’s just the first year. Next year there will also be more than 2 million new grads facing a notso-hotso labor market. Now it’s a $70 billion program again. And then a $105 billion program…assuming, of course, that we don’t get more folks flooding into college when they realize that at the end of your college course, a guaranteed job is waiting for you that pays a lot more than whatever you’d otherwise be doing.

This would be great for college professors -- a profession that I take it Tressie McMillan Cottom, a Ph.D. candidate, aspires to join. But it would be a disaster for the rest of the taxpayers

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