Government can help by improving and expanding access to benefits like affordable health insurance, retirement saving vehicles and paid sick and family leave. The federal government realized the importance of these benefits for workers by extending paid leave
for workers early on in the pandemic, and more recently by making health insurance
more accessible and affordable. But it made these fixes temporary and failed to address the ongoing need.
Making permanent changes in job quality can have significant impacts
for workers, including greater physical and mental health, increased savings and reductions in stress and occupational injuries.
Of course, job quality consists of more than wages and benefits. Government solutions to improving job quality also include implementing responsible health and safety regulations, anti-discrimination and harassment protections, hours and scheduling standards and worker protections.
In addition, a federal jobs program
that subsidizes private-sector employers to hire unemployed, formerly low-wage workers could benefit employers that are struggling during the recession and help workers earn an income and establish a long-term job. During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration
provided unemployed workers with jobs in public works, the arts and community development, with some of their output in bridges, parks and dams still visible today.
A new federal program could provide temporary subsidies to employers that would guarantee to keep the workers on the job for a time after the subsidy expires. In fact, during the height of the Great Recession in 2009, public jobs programs
subsidized hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers in private companies, as well as public and community-based organizations. Evaluation
of these programs found participants in most programs experienced significant increases in unsubsidized employment in the year after the program. Providing subsidies to private-sector businesses that create jobs that pay a living wage, and that will eventually transition to unsubsidized work, could help both employers and workers.
President Biden has promised to invest in infrastructure
, such as roads, bridges, water supply and clean technology, and to create jobs. Hopefully, policymakers will invest in workers as part of this initiative, and include measures that will boost equitable access to quality jobs for all workers.