Filling the Good Jobs Deficit: An Economic Recovery Agenda for Our States and Cities

More than two years after the official end to the Great Recession, Americans remain deeply concerned about the state of the economy. With 25 million people out of work or underemployed, and millions more working in low-wage jobs that leave them on the brink of disaster, many fear that America’s best days may be behind us.1

Ongoing layoffs in the public sector continue to negate nascent job creation in the private sector, and the few new jobs we are creating are inferior to the mid-wage work we have lost—the jobs that once sustained our economic aspirations.2 It’s not too late to ease this foreboding and restore economic promise, but doing so demands a concerted effort from government, business, and labor and community members to ensure that the United States remains a place where good jobs with family-supporting wages are a national policy priority.

This effort will require making different choices to prioritize putting people to work in quality jobs and allocating resources now to avoid more costly problems in the future. We need to emphasize projects that get people repairing and maintaining existing assets over ribbon-cutting opportunities that don’t respond to immediate needs, and we need to select plans for those projects that improve the public health and safety of those who live and work nearby. We must give preference to new technologies that will improve America’s security, and also open new opportunities for manufacturing, construction, and ongoing operations. We must accept the challenge of developing our greatest resource—our people—for the yet unimagined industries of the 21st century, even as we vow to maintain standards and support for workers facing the employment obstacles of today.

And we must resolve to hold onto America’s revenues, devoting them to a good jobs agenda for all of us instead of giving them away to big corporations and the wealthiest few among us. Closing corporate tax loopholes, ending unnecessary subsidies for profitable industries and putting a stop to accounting gimmicks that shelter only the income of the very richest could save us $681 billion over ten years and allow us to redeploy that revenue to putting America back to work. (See “It’s Time to Start Saving” for a breakdown of corporate and millionaire tax expenditures.) Putting America back to work is a national challenge and requires a strong and adequate national response. Thus, in this agenda, we suggest some actions that the federal government should be taking to restore our economy to a surer footing.

But there are also solutions that we can deploy at the state and local levels to address the good jobs deficit, and the goal of this Recovery Agenda is to address some of those possibilities—to assist advocates, researchers and elected officials in our states and cities as they think about strategies to rebuild quality jobs in their own backyards. Recognizing that no two communities are exactly the same, we highlight some innovative projects and financing tools to spur local ideas and note parallel steps federal lawmakers could be taking to support job creation on the ground. The projects we describe have the potential to create short-term construction or planning jobs and long-term operations, maintenance and manufacturing opportunities. Similarly, we are mindful of the need for jobs in a variety of occupations, across all industries that reach workers with various levels of experience. Finally, we emphasize that in order to address the related challenges of income inequality, inequitable distribution of work, and increasingly unsustainable environmental practices, all 21st century jobs must be fairly compensated, accessible to all and move us toward a safe and healthy environment.


1. “21% Say Today’s Children Will be Better Off Than Their Parents,” Rasmussen Reports, March 25, 2011. ( politics/general_politics/march_2011/21_say_ today_s_children_will_be_better_off_than_their_ parents)

2. “The Good Jobs Deficit: A Closer Look at Recent Job Loss and Job Growth Tends Using Occupational Data,” National Employment Law Project, July 2011. ( occupations%20report%207-25-11.pdf?nocdn=1)

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About the Authors

Anastasia Christman

Areas of expertise:
  • Climate Justice,
  • Policy Analysis,
  • Procurement Policy,
  • Research,
  • Worker Organizing

Christine Riordan