Unemployment Project Proposal

(by toconnor)



This is a proposal for a project for helping unemployed folks survive and find work, helping underemployed folks find better jobs more suited to their education and experience, and ending unemployment by addressing the structural problems that create it. The format could be a pilot project with an existing organization, possibly under a fiscal sponsorship arrangement, or a non-profit org on its own, or a PAC or Super-PAC. The project or organization will connect with as many interested people and organizations as possible in Oakland and the Bay Area to start a national movement that recognizes we don’t have to have any unemployment.

As of 1/31/2014, I’ve spoken with two folks from Working America, an arm of the AFL-CIO devoted to improving jobs and working conditions for non-unionized workers. They may be willing to create a kind of pilot project where I would build a working group here in Oakland as the start of a national movement. They will discuss it with other folks in their org, then get back to me with some kind of proposal as to how what I’m proposing fits in with their organization.


The problem

The problem is a huge pool of unemployed people, people who have worked for years and have found their jobs and/or careers pulled out from under them. This is a tragedy for the people involved, their families, friends, and neighbors. It is also an enormous drain on the country’s resources. And it’s entirely unnecessary.

In the immediate term (March 2014), the long-term unemployed are not getting any federal unemployment insurance as of 1/1/2014. This leaves them with no safety net at all after their state unemployment benefits run out, usually in about 26 weeks (depends on state and your claim date). This is a huge problem since there are not enough jobs and over two million people now have no jobs and no benefits. This is forcing many to sell their houses and cash out their retirement plans, which is an economic disaster in the making. Additionally the country is losing the benefit of millions of skilled people who are now not only not employed but sinking into poverty, making it less likely they'll be gainfully employed in the future. Federal unemployment insurance (UI) up to now has always been extended when unemployment is "high". It was extended five times under President Bush when the unemployment rate was lower than it is now. It is only under President Obama that extending federal UI has become a political issue. Playing with the lives of long-term unemployed should not and cannot be a political issue any longer.

Currently (March 2014) there are 2.6 applicants for every job opening over all industries and areas.( EPI report 2/11/2014). No single industry has an overall shortage of applicants, although certain areas may be experiencing some shortages. In the construction industry in particular, there are almost 10 applicants for every job opening (see that same EPI report). The current percentage of “long-term” (that is, for more than 27 weeks) unemployed is historically quite high, nearly 35% of the total unemployed. (Underemployment indicators, 2/12/2014). Once someone is “long-term unemployed”, that person’s odds of ever finding full-time work again drop. Very few organizations are dedicated to helping the long-term unemployed and very few proposals exist for getting them back to work.


The solution

I believe the problem of the long-term unemployed can be solved because helping the unemployed is a popular issue. It won't be done easily because it depends on attacking the "austerity" agenda that has infected Washington DC politics, and it depends on overturning some long-held American myths about the unemployed: that they’re lazy or not trying hard enough; that they lack skills; that they’re living in the wrong places. It will also require overturning the now-accepted but wrong “wisdom” that the last stimulus was a boondoggle and a failure.

The basic solution in my opinion entails:

  1. extending federal unemployment insurance now and until the jobs-to-applicants ratio is 1:1;
  2. raising the minimum wage to increase demand and reduce stress;
  3. investing in infrastructure and education at massive levels; and
  4. creating a guaranteed-job program where anyone who wants a job can get a job.

The job guarantee sounds a little radical at first but tends to poll pretty well nationally once it’s explained. Several proposals have been put forth, generally with the federal government paying people to work through designated non-profits, in a job that matched their skills and experience as closely as possible. In order to fully implement a job guarantee, we should implement a set of policies that will make it easier for people who want to work but currently can’t due to extenuating circumstances. These would include paid family leave, paid sick leave, job-sharing, and an optional shorter work week.

Another possible solution that would be harder still to convince people about include a basic minimum income, which would almost certainly open up a huge number of jobs. This solution has the benefit, in many proposals for it, of dismantling huge bureaucracies like food stamps and welfare and unemployment benefits.

One other solution that hopefully this project would be able to provide directly, or act as a referral service for, would be paid-for intensive job-coaching, including intensive support for people who want to go freelance or start their own business.

How do we get this done in this political climate? I believe we take a quasi-entrepreneurial approach where we mix a lot of traditional and new strategies, try out strategies, see what’s effective, make those better. I think intensive use of social media like Twitter and Facebook can be very effective in mobilizing people. They in turn would target specific people for specific reasons, using traditional approaches like phone calls and hand-written letters and office visits, guerrilla actions like innovative flyering and signage, and whatever direct actions the organizing group thinks appropriate. I think we’ll also need to work on changing the culture around how people see the unemployed, through billboards and commercials, and again intense use of social media. I think we need to inspire confidence in the effectiveness our organization by making a point of using the most effective strategies possible, and we need to get at least one early success,

One other part of the solution has to be getting people more engaged overall in politics and the political process. I think we should make calling your representative and senators every week into a cool thing. We should advertise the Capitol switchboard number widely via social media and billboards and commercials, ask people to put the number on speed dial on their cellphones, and ask them to call their representatives and senators once a week, every week, about anything. No script, just make it super casual to get more people comfortable with constant contact with their elected officials.



Strategic outline


Goals, long-term

  • Get Congress to pass a law that automatically extends federal unemployment insurance as long as the applicants-to-jobs ratio is higher than 1:1.
  • Get Congress to pass the Rebuild America Act, or a similar law that provides for massive investment and jobs in infrastructure and education.
  • Get Congress to pass a law that creates subsidized jobs for unemployed people, so that every person who wants a job can get one.


Goals, medium-term

  • Get Rep Lee, Rep Pelosi, and Sens Feinstein and Boxer to support bill making federal unemployment insurance extend indefinitely until the applicants-to-jobs ratio is 1:1 or lower. 
  • Get Rep Lee, Rep Pelosi, and Sens Feinstein and Boxer to support the Rebuild America Act, or similar act if one is more applicable or current
  • Get Rep Lee, Rep Pelosi, and Sens Feinstein and Boxer to support bill guaranteeing a job to everyone who wants one


Goals, short-term

  • Get at least four more people on community action team - proposed deadline: end of May 2014
  • -- task: create a petition for automatically extending federal unemployment, or for implementing a job guarantee, or both (deadline 3/18/2014). UPDATE: posted petition on MoveOn.org 3/27; as of 4/24 it has 120 signatures.
  • -- task: attend next local meeting for East Bay DFA or Wellstone Democratic Club or MoveOn.org and ask to speak for a minute or two. UPDATE: attended Wellstone meeting 3/27, meeting agenda was already set, next meeting is going to be their weekly fundraiser. Made contact with board member Pamela Drake.
  • -- task: contact Abel Guillen (running for Oakland city council in Nov 2014) through another friend (deadline 3/18/2014)
  • -- task: attend a meeting or house party for one or more Oakland mayoral candidates to assess prospects (current list of declared candidates: http://oaklandwiki.org/2014_Mayoral_Election#candidates)
  • -- task: Name the project organization. Proposed names: Jobs for Everyone, Jobs for All, Job Guarantee, Job Guarantee Project, End Unemployment, Unemployment Advocacy Project, Unemployment Ends Now, Everyone Deserves a Job. (est 4/26)
  • -- task: Create a website, prob WordPress as subsidiary domain on my existing website
  • -- task: Hold a local meeting to discuss issues and hopefully recruit some supporters and co-leaders. UPDATE: On/around 4/17 I reserved the meeting room at the Temescal Branch Library for Sat 5/10, 11am-1pm.
  • -- task: Create a Facebook page and post event for 5/10 meeting


  • create network of local supporters who we can contact via email, pref a professional email service - proposed # and deadline: 25 by end of April 2014


  • Present a white-paper or similar doc, with supporting documents, for automatic extension of federal UI and/or a job guarantee, to all local federal reps
  • -- task: research implementations of a job guarantee and write up summary description




Organizational considerations-Inputs



Organizational considerations-Outputs

  • create Working America chapter based in East Bay/Bay Area/California, or partner with existing chapter-based group like Democracy for America - proposed deadline: end of May 2014
  • have local Working America chapter get mentioned by East Bay Express and San Francisco Chronicle at least once



  • Unemployed folks, especially the long-term unemployed, and folks with skills and experience who cannot find work in their profession or their area
  • Their families



  • Their neighbors
  • Their friends
  • Their local businesses
  • Sympathetic onlookers/outsiders acquired via social media
  • Local independent media - East Bay Express, Oakland North, Oakland Local
  • Local Democratic clubs - Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club (http://wellstoneclub.org/), Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club (http://mgodems.org/)
  • National Employment Law Project (California office is located in Oakland)
  • Rebuild the Dream (based in SF)
  • Local orgs probably sympathetic - New Priorities, Moveon.org, Ella Baker Center, Urban Habitat, Oakland Rising
  • Lift Up Oakland - group in Oakland working to raise the Oakland minimum wage. http://liftupoakland.org/. From article about the coalition at Working East Bay (http://www.workingeastbay.org/article.php?id=1125): Lift Up Oakland is a coalition of community members, workers, small business owners, students, and faith leaders who believe that Oakland should be a town where those who work hard can afford to take care of our families and help create a healthy community and healthy economy. We are the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), Raise the Wage East Bay, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), SEIU 1021, SEIU ULTCW, UFCW Local 5, and UNITE HERE 2850.
  • East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE): http://www.workingeastbay.org/
  • local Democracy for America groups - East Bay DFA
  • local labor groups - Alameda County Labor Council
  • Rep. Barbara Lee
  • possibly some Oakland mayoral candidates, as of 3/13/2014 there are 16 official candidates:  http://oaklandwiki.org/2014_Mayoral_Election#candidates
  • possibly some current Oakland City Councilmembers (current city council roster, 7 members each representing one district and 1 at-large member:  http://oaklandwiki.org/City_Council).
  • possibly some city council candidates. Districts 2, 4, & 6 are up for election in 2014:  http://oaklandwiki.org/2014_City_Council_Elections



  • for proposing or endorsing bill to make federal unemployment insurance extend indefinitely: Rep Lee, Rep Pelosi, Sen Boxer, Sen Feinstein
  • for proposing or endorsing bill guaranteeing a job to everyone who wants one: Rep Lee, Rep Pelosi, Sen Boxer, Sen Feinstein



Oakland mayoral candidates


Oakland City Council



Proposed petition for a job guarantee

We the undersigned believe that everyone in the United States who wants a job should be able to get one. Currently there are not enough jobs in the United States for everyone who wants one. Millions of people cannot find work through no fault of their own, and the existing social safety net is far too weak to prevent millions of the unemployed from falling into poverty. Currently the Economic Policy Institute estimates that there are only four jobs for every 10 people actively looking for work. In fact, there are likely millions more people who would be actively looking for work if they had any reason to believe there were jobs to be had. It is absurd that we would let people fall into poverty because our economy cannot create enough jobs for everyone. Therefore we demand that the federal government institute a "job guarantee", so that everyone who wants a job can get one. 

Article by L. Randall Wray in The Nation, 6/27/2011: http://www.thenation.com/article/161249/job-guarantee-government-plan-full-employment

Interview with Pavlina Tcherneva on job guarantee programs, 1/21/2014: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2014/01/guaranteed-income-guaranteed-job.html



Other possible goals

  • Extend federal unemployment insurance immediately and retroactively.

  • Make unemployment insurance benefits more generous, e.g. paying for at least 75% of area’s median living expenses.

  • Increase minimum wage to living wage, and/or charge back the amount of public assistance any employee receives when employer is highly profitable, i.e. a multi-billion dollar corp like McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Target, Burger King, etc. Increasing the minimum wage beyond poverty wages to a living wage will create jobs since people receiving minimum wage will spend all their money and increase demand for goods and services.— “How McDonald's And Walmart Became Welfare Queens” (HuffPo, 11/13/2013)

  • massive infrastructure and education investment

  • restore states’ funding cuts in education: reduce class sizes; hire more teachers; hire nurses, psychologists and librarians for every grade school and high school; reimburse teachers for school supplies (or fully fund supplies in the first place); pay comm college teachers living wages; restore cuts made to comm college districts

  • invest in infrastructure: fix all bridges needing repairs; move electricity and cable lines underground where appropriate; fund streetcars, trams, light-rail trains; upgrade electric system infrastructure; upgrade water and sewage systems.


  • guaranteed minimum income / universal basic income:

  • — http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/magazine/switzerlands-proposal-to-pay-people-for-being-alive.html?pagewanted=1&ref=annielowrey&_r=1&
  • — http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/10/how-to-cut-the-poverty-rate-in-half-its-easy/280971/
  • — http://www.businessinsider.com/giving-all-americans-a-basic-income-would-end-poverty-2013-11
  • — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Basic_Income
  • — http://www.demos.org/blog/11/20/13/basic-income-should-not-replace-all-other-programs
  • Politics of a Guaranteed Income, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1973
  • — http://www.modernmoneynetwork.org/seminar-8-economic-rights.html


  • shortening the work week: 
  • — https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/10/working-for-the-weekend-2/



  • universal paid maternity / paternity leave
  • universal paid sick leave 
  • intensive free career-coaching for unemployed, including support and coaching for unemployed to go self-employed or start a business


Other possible tactics

  • hire one or more lobbyists to constantly visit and pressure members of Congress and president. Close to being a pain in the ass.
  • arrange visits to congressional offices for citizens to lobby; these should be constant, so congresspeople start feeling like we’re breathing down their necks. Also could have one or more instances where we arrange for people to visit every single congress-person’s office on the same day.
  • get politicians and candidates to endorse our platform; in Oakland, get city council members and candidates and the mayoral candidates to endorse
  • intensive use of twitter to motivate people to call their reps and to publicize the organization (but not to reach politicians or candidates)
  • use twitter to hold online scheduled talks about various topics or proposed actions
  • crowd-funding for overall mission or for specific campaigns or goals
  • crowd-fund “prizes” on twitter for reporters to report on a specific issue or ask a specific question. E.g. claim from americansfortaxfairness.org that GE got an extension of a $6 Billion tax break without having to be paid for, while the Republicans insist that any unemployment extension has to be paid for.
  • guerrilla marketing: make flyers of highly effective graphs (e.g. min wage vs productivity showing that real min wage stopped going up in early 70s while productivity has continued to increase) and put on telephone poles, in laundromats and coffee shops. Pick the most effective half-dozen and saturate every square corner of the country with them.
  • research on what are the most effective tactics and focus on those. Educate about effectiveness of communication methods on elected political reps: useless methods like emails, petitions, and tweeting vs more effective methods like phone calls, hand-written letters, and office visits.
  • commercials on tv and radio, targeted esp during Hayes and Maddow shows
  • ads online on blogs like Daily Kos and Atrios and Booman, major newspapers
  • billboards in targeted areas to ask locals to call a specific local representative or senator on a specific issue
  • billboards with highly effective graphics to educate people about current economy
  • cultural: fund artwork, books, music, plays, street murals, etc showing current society’s problems of unemployment and under-employment, and maybe to show a possible society with a vision of a better future where everyone who wants work has it and has work that suits their talents and education
  • make alliances with reputable economists concerned about unemployment and inequality, like Robert Reich at UC Berkeley, and Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein at CEPR
  • organize campaign in conjunction with other orgs to just get people to call their reps, about anything, on a weekly basis. Publicize capitol switchboard number and get people to put it on speed-dial on their cellphones. Make it a cool thing to call your rep and senators every week (about something, about anything) and uncool to NOT call them every week. Get Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow to publicize the number and help make it a cool thing.
  • get involved in efforts to fix the CA Employment Development Dept (EDD) - many people reporting their checks have been delayed for months, dramatic increase in number of denied claims. Gov Brown apparently trying to save money by delaying checks and denying claims but is hurting lots of people.



People in immediate area  who want to be involved

  • Myself - Theresa O’Connor, Oakland
  • Lauren Payne, Oakland


Questions for Oaklanders

1) what needs in your community do you see not being done for lack of money?




Resources on guaranteed employment, aka Job Guarantee, either directly from govt or through non-profits: