Why Has Labor Not Demanded Guaranteed Employment?
Unemployment has almost always been traumatic for its victims. In earlier times, it threatened extreme privation, if not starvation. Still today, it dramatically decreases its victims' standard of living, human capital, social standing, and self-respect. It is associated with poorer health, suicide, and family dissolution. Unemployment also entails considerable costs to society such as lost output, increased crime, decayed neighborhoods, and when extreme, political unrest. Why, then, is it tolerated? Why, especially, have workers and their advocates not demanded that employment be guaranteed to all? This article explores why what has always been foremost to workers' interests -- security of employment -- has not remained one of labor's foremost demands. It finds that the reasons have been complex and varied over time, including degrading work houses, workers' focus on alternatives to capitalism, the fact that unemployment typically is suffered by a small portion of the workforce, the local character of most worker demands, the eventual provision of safety nets, and most importantly, the dominance of ideology that blames workers for their unemployment or holds that full employment is impossible to attain.
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