New report calls for full employment

Freddie Allen | 12/16/2013, 8:17 a.m. | Updated on 12/16/2013, 11:31 a.m.
Fifty years ago, civil rights leaders dove headfirst into the on-going debate over American economic policy by placing the fight ...

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Fifty years ago, civil rights leaders dove headfirst into the on-going debate over American economic policy by placing the fight for equal employment opportunities at the forefront of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Despite their efforts, Black child poverty, Black unemployment and the median income for Black males all peaked in the decade following the march and then headed south, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The EPI report, part of the “The Unfinished March” series on the 1963 March on Washington, looks at two warring economic ideologies, one centered on inflation, the other focused on full employment, that helped to shape American fiscal policy following the end of World War II.

Following World War II, as fears of another depression swelled, lawmakers acted to stabilize the economy. The United States Senate passed The Full Employment Act, legislation that guaranteed the opportunity for well-paying, full-time jobs for all Americans willing and able to work. But the House of Representatives largely opposed the bill, calling the guarantee an entitlement. The Senate eventually stripped the guarantee and other language from the bill that the House opposed to get a version of the bill passed as the Employment Act of 1946.

The compromise ensured that the battle over the federal government’s role in guiding the free market economy would continue.

“[The Employment Act of 1946] did not settle the fundamental debate between those who feared inflation more than unemployment, or reconcile partisan views about the role of the government in the economy,” the report stated. “And full employment could only be guaranteed with the resolution of these debates in favor of using fiscal policy to pursue maximum employment.”

According to the report, median incomes for all American families flourished through the 1950s, growing by 38 percent. Black median family income increased by an astounding 41 percent. However, the decade’s prosperity was marred by the uncertainty of a series of economic valleys and peaks driven by slow-moving intervention by the federal government.

The report suggested that when business profits of the elite and the demand for jobs collided, lawmakers often protected the interests of the business class at the peril of the working class.

“The recession of 1957, for example, had been created by the Federal Reserve putting inflation and business profits ahead of jobs and incomes for families,” the report stated.

The gains made by Black families underscored how deep and wide the income gap between Blacks and Whites remained.

“By the end of the 1960s, black median family income was a mere 55 percent of white median family income,” the report stated. “The black median family income of $21,466 (in 2011 dollars) in 1960 actually sat below the poverty threshold for a family of four.”

Prior to the 1963 March on Washington, the Kennedy administration acknowledged that, “government policy must be alert and flexible, ready to promote the achievement of full recovery within the coming fiscal year and to counteract developments which might threaten its attainment.”