What is a Jobs First Agenda? Exploring a New Narrative and the Legal Framework to Effectuate It

In the wake of WWII, the United States signed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which included the right to work and earn a good wage, medical care, public education, and more of the components of basic human dignity. These “economic” rights were to be protected to prevent fascism. Yet, in the years since, these economic rights have been ignored or even vilified in the United States; the gap between rich and poor has continued to grow; fairness and empathy have been purged from the economic and justice systems. Employees are treated as mere commodities to be bargained for at the lowest possible price, while meaningful consideration of a “living wage” is dismissed as socialist rhetoric. This exacerbates the problems that hit Appalachia the hardest: collapse of small towns, energy and climate issues, the loss of jobs in coal and industry, infrastructure decay, the education deficit, racial tensions, the drug addiction epidemic, and more. The Jobs First Agenda seeks a better way: to create, collaboratively, a new narrative; a nonpartisan, grassroots philosophy of action based on fairness that can facilitate the pursuit of a just economic life for all Appalachians. This roundtable will explore how a Jobs First Agenda could impact the most critical issues confronting Appalachia today by: amending the U.S. Constitution to guarantee living wage jobs, free universal health care, and free education through college; changing state laws to require fair dealing in all employment relationships; rebuilding our infrastructure; changing to a new energy economy; and reforming the tax code.