It is easy to despair at the state of our world. It is undeniable that the impacts of climate change are here, and only set to increase. The mental and emotional strain this is putting on young people all over the world is immense. In response, governments are treating the greatest threat we have ever faced as a species as if it’s a high school project where all they need to do is create an A3 poster ‘preferably’ by 2050.
Alongside the deterioration of our natural world, economic prospects aren’t looking great for young people. For those aged 15-24, unemployment is at a rate of 16 per cent (or 329,000), and underemployment at 20 per cent (or 397,000), a worrying trend in the job market at large that has been steadily worsening since 1990. That’s the equivalent of the combined population of Canberra, Hobart and Darwin, all wanting more work. And that’s just counting people in the single age bracket.
Despair, however, should be the last thing on our mind. What those who have co-opted our democracy and stifled our imaginations don’t want us to know is that we already have all that we need to address both the unemployment crisis as well as solving the climate crisis. A Climate Jobs Guarantee (CJG) counters the cruel myth that we have to accept hundreds of thousands of people must be unemployed and puts people into work that is meaningful and useful that swiftly transitions our country to be low-carbon.
The most important fact to know is that unemployment is something that our government deliberately and knowingly creates with concrete policy measures. They justify it as a way to keep inflation low with a non-accelerating rate of unemployment [NAIRU]. Our government hasn’t even been using the accurate NAIRU, meaning that hundreds of thousands more people than ‘necessary’ have suffered if you accept the idea that we should sacrifice anyone for the good of the market.
If politicians want and need people to be unemployed, why do we create an expensive and elaborate theatre to punish the unlucky people who cannot get a job? What kind of immoral society do we live in where we give billions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations to keep up a punitive game of pretend? Calling something ‘mutual obligations’ is humiliating, given unemployed people are already meeting their obligation, by not having a job, a sacrifice forced upon them in the name of our inflation rate. The fact the state asks them to then apply for a ridiculous twenty jobs every month or they will cut off the measly below the poverty-line amount of welfare is appalling.
Our government is so dedicated to keeping up the farce that billions of tax-payer dollars go to fund a private network of ‘job providers’ who churn through the unemployed to make a profit, knowing they will not be able to find jobs for most people. This is set up through the privatised JobActive, an Australian Government-funded network of organisations contracted to deliver ‘employment services’ to unemployed job seekers on Government income support payments.
A 2019 senate inquiry concluded that ‘JobActive is not welfare to work, it is welfare to nowhere’. and ex-workers for Jobactive providers have been scathing of the system. A worker for one of the providers involved described the network as hurting the unemployed by ‘taking someone who doesn’t have discretionary income and turning them into a product to make money.’
The ideology unpinning all this, neoliberalism, has always had the main aim and achievement, as David Harvey states, ‘to redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income.’ When you consider that billionaires gained $3.9tn, yet workers lost $3.7tn during a global pandemic, it becomes clear that the rich are getting wealthier because many of us are getting robbed. A reserve army of the unemployed is really a tool to assert class power, suppress wages and keep people from making a fuss when their job is unsafe because of cost-cutting measures. It is designed to weaken the power of unions and concentrate capital in the hands of the few, at the cost of the many.
The cost of unemployment and the suffering is immense, yet it is often hidden from view, acting as a disease with significant social, health, and economic costs. Ask anyone who has experienced unemployment and struggled to find a job and, if they’re even able to talk about it, they will probably share the shame and humiliation it entails. The stress of unemployment leaves a scar that lingers that even reemployment struggles to fully correct, making it even more important for young people to be protected before these scars are made. Unemployment hurts us all and costs us a lot as a society. The immiseration of our fellow people has a ripple impact on communities and the families of people out of work, entrenching other issues such as addiction and mental illness.
A CJG is the best way to immediately address both climate change and provide public jobs for all, by using a pool of publicly employed individuals, instead of having a reserve army of the unemployed, avoiding inflation without the misery and cost of unemployment. Crucially, this idea is popular. Tomorrow Movement has recently surveyed over 700 young people, and overwhelmingly young people want the government to invest in jobs that serve the needs of their community and solve climate change, with 94 per cent of respondents supporting the creation of a CJG.
Young people know that we can provide solutions that serve the needs of our communities and address the existential threat of climate change, while also removing the immense employment stress we are experiencing. Providing jobs for all who want one would do more to address the systemic gender, class and racial inequality we face in Australia, giving experience, skills and confidence without the humiliation of being churned by ‘job providers’ who just want to make money from them. It would do more for our mental health than our government asking ‘R U OK?’ once a year and then promptly covering their ears.
The jobs we could create would have so many wide-reaching benefits for our society. Imagine what life would be like if we properly funded care work and stopped forcing vital work to be done by charities and volunteers. We could centre justice for First Nations people, with money for self-determined caring for country, rather than the government interventions like the cashless welfare card or exploitative work-for-the-dole programs that we inflict on these communities and that are designed to benefit big business. We could revegetate and help our ecosystems become more resilient to extreme weather while also absorbing more carbon. We could create local renewable energy hubs and batteries, energy efficiency initiatives, community gardens and urban farms to increase our intake of local and healthy food. We could teach people valuable skills such as cooking and nutrition through healthy school lunch programs in our schools. We could run more arts and music programs and fund emerging writers. We could build solidarity and cohesion within our society.
In the words of the late David Graeber, ‘the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently. ’ We know that another world is possible and that despair is a tool used against us to keep the status quo. With a Climate Jobs Guarantee, we could address climate change and unemployment, with the benefits being felt immediately. The only thing left to do is fight for it.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and on behalf of Tomorrow Movement. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the UWU or its members.
Image by Olena Sergienko