Employment Crisis Demands Proven Strategies Like Subsidized Jobs

By Molly Bashay

Our country needs a plan to ease long-term economic suffering and get ahead of the curve. The ongoing health and economic crises have revealed some stark truths. First, workers of color, immigrants, young people, women, workers in jobs paying low wages, and frontline workers are among the hardest hit by these crises. Second, and worse still, significant job losses and reductions in income have deepened racial inequities and exacerbated poverty and economic hardship for millions. With unemployment slated to exceed pre-pandemic levels for the next decade, the nation is desperate for Congressional intervention to alleviate the economic, social, and psychological burden of long-term unemployment.

As we near the one-year anniversary of the first stay-at-home order, millions of workers are still in economic limbo. Workers and families need a plan that tackles the jobs crisis head on. And subsidized and transitional jobs programs are a proven strategy to help do just that.

Policymakers must recognize that it’s core to our economic recovery to urgently prioritize investments in subsidized and transitional employment programs that get people back to work and back to even keel. Subsidized employment programs use public funds to create jobs for unemployed and underemployed workers in times of economic recession and expansion. In recession, subsidized jobs can rapidly reemploy displaced workers and blunt the shock of sudden income loss and economic instability. In expansion, these jobs support workers and would-be workers who have structural barriers to employment, often due to discrimination.

Admittedly, subsidized employment can’t resolve our current economic dilemma on its own. However, a large-scale investment in high-quality employment pathways for workers most harmed by the pandemic—including BIPOC, immigrants, and workers in jobs paying low wages, just to name a few—is a time-tested first bite at the apple. This approach worked as our nation addressed the Great Recession, and it can work now, as well.

True economic recovery will require building back high-quality jobs in all sectors that treat all workers as essential, strengthen the economy, and enable workers to meet family obligations, save for the future, and move out of poverty. Anything less, like a call for “back to normal,” is both a step backward and a choice to endorse the structural inequities that govern our current systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing recession have devastated the health and economic well-being of millions of families with low incomes, yet millions more were already on the brink. Many of the problems we face—borne from centuries of discrimination and segregation, proliferation of unstable and low-quality jobs, and a lack of investment in education, child care, and other crucial supports—are systemic and require systems-wide solutions. These problems predate the pandemic and will continue in its wake unless we intervene. And innovative jobs programs are just the intervention we need.