Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines after she called the fight against climate change “the civil rights movement of our generation.” Although a prevalent global issue, it is important that the conversations surrounding sustainability occur locally, and the Newburgh City Council has begun to take these first steps.
The Newburgh City Council listened to a presentation by Dr. Pavlina R. Tcherneva, the Chair of the Department of Economics at Bard College and a researcher for the Levy Economics Institute, at its work session last Thursday.
Called, “What’s the Buzz? The Job Guarantee and the Green New Deal,” Dr. Tcherneva’s presentation spoke of the intersection between economic equality, social justice, and the need for environmental awareness, especially as it relates to Newburgh. Tcherneva additionally spoke about the need for the ‘job guarantee,’ which was called, “the single, most crucial aspect of the Green New Deal.”
Tcherneva, who was a consultant on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential Campaign, asked the City Council if Newburgh was ready to take on possible economic changes as the national conversations surrounding economics turn toward inclusivity: creating job opportunities with livable wages for everyone.
“The job guarantee is a federally funded and locally administered policy— it’s a public option for jobs. It’s a federal program. The idea behind it, is that if a person has been looking and looking for employment opportunity, or for a living wage employment opportunity, that we will have program designed that guarantees that public option,” she said.
This presentation even touched upon the disparaging and immobile state of the country’s wealth distribution. In 1997, the top 0.01% of America’s highest economic class made over 20 million dollars a year. The bottom 90% of Americans reported incomes of $34,960.
Almost a decade later, and there has been no overall economic growth nor has there been mobility. In 2015, the top 0.01% of Americans grew richer, making over $31 million a year while the bottom 90% of Americans only made $34,074.
Tcherneva further explained that the ‘job guarantee’ is designed to create an abundance of employment opportunities, so no person is told “no” at the unemployment office. She spoke about the two moral principles that “guide this program.” The first one falls under economic equality, as “even the least fortunate among us with the least economic opportunities or educational opportunities have something important to contribute to the community.”
According to Dr. Tcherneva, it also costs exorbitant amounts of money for a government to account for high levels of poverty and unemployment. “It is far more expensive to go on with the status quo than put in place a program that provides decent living wage jobs for those who need them,” she said. And, she indicated that the economic problems small communities face all fall under the responsibility of the federal government, which is the premise for the second moral principle. “Not only [have] people been neglected at a national level, but also in the communities,” said Dr. Tcherneva.
Because the federal government has increased pressure on “states and localities to fulfill the public purpose, [it] has starved communities from public funding. And so, the idea behind the job guarantee is that we put the two problems together: the neglected people with the neglected community and we marry the available resources with the needs of a community,” she explained.
Though many are skeptics, the job guarantee is not a new proposal. It was first on the list of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proposed Second Bill of Rights. The job guarantee is also listed in Article 23 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which was put together by the United Nations in 1948.
Along with the job guarantee and the Green New Deal, other progressive proposals include tuition free public college, a liveable wage of $15 an hour, Medicare for all, and an expansion of Social Security. These may seem extreme, but they “poll exceptionally well, across the board.” said Tcherneva. “The job guarantee in some deep red states polls upwards of 70%.” she added.
Toward the end of her presentation, Tcherneva spoke of two “existential threats” that are heavily affecting the country’s growth: climate and jobs/income security. However, she believes that these threats are essentially the same.
“What point is saving the environment and providing clean water if people can’t pay their bills? Let’s create goods jobs, but what good is it of having good pay checks [if] we are breathing polluted air?” she asked.
Tcherneva believes that it’s time to “transform the economy in an inclusive way” because “communities that are usually marginalized are now not excluded.” She explained that as a start, the usage of fossil fuels must end and transition to ‘green technology,’ in order to provide people with sustainable agriculture and food.
“This conversation is not going away,´ Tcherneva said. “It is here to stay.”