A Human Right to Work & US Elections
Posted: 9 Dec 2018 Last revised: 10 Jan 2019
Date Written: 2018
Recent headlines in the United States tell the story of surging suicide rates, the runaway cost of higher education, chronic unemployment among certain sectors of society, and a dearth of skilled workers needed to fill thousands of “middle skill” jobs. Couple that with rising childhood poverty rates in many parts of the U.S., and we can see why Timothy Egan might be right that a “grand and unifying" plan is needed to attack income inequality and job loss among working families. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt planted the seeds for just such a plan when he proposed an economic bill of rights. In his “four freedoms” address he made it clear that “freedom from want” is as fundamental to human dignity as our right to speak, to worship, and to be secure in our homes and persons. Yet economic insecurity and income inequality are on the rise. And as FDR noted “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” Ensuring an adequate standard of living and employment opportunities for all is not just a human rights issue, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the issue that connects disaffected voters across the political spectrum in the 2016 election. The solutions are within our reach. Many ideas have been offered in the same months as the eye catching headlines noted above: investment in our failing infrastructure which can lead to job creation, targeted technical and apprenticeship training, subsidized work programs for the underemployed, and trade policies that actually protect working families. And there is much to be learned from other countries’ experiences as well, such as Germany’s national vocational training program and Australia’s HELP program (repayment of student loans through a tax once a graduate’s income reaches a certain level).The “epic changes” that Egan refers to as taking hold in the past century -- Social Security & Medicare, the Civil Rights & Voting Rights Acts, the Clean Air & Clean Water Acts -- were once considered "pie-in-the-sky" ideas as well (not to mention the Affordable Care Act). In an election season where the unifying theme is economic security, the time may be right for a national policy that recognizes the right of every person to work and live with dignity.
Note: Lorie Graham teaches property and human rights at Suffolk Law School in Boston, MA.
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