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How Cities Can Rebuild the Social Safety Net

In an age of employment uncertainty and a growing income gap, urban America needs to find new ways to support its citizens.
relates to How Cities Can Rebuild the Social Safety Net
Toby Melville/Reuters

Think about the “good” jobs of the past. Whether it's a much-lamented coal miner or a factory worker that pops in your head, what made their work good? It wasn’t the day-to-day tasks themselves, but the economic security it provided—not just the benefits and pay, but the stabilizing value it brought to individual households, communities, and society itself. In short, the good jobs of yesterday strengthened the safety net.

Today, we see the service sector replacing secure factory positions. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that restaurants are now creating more jobs than manufacturing and mining—adding nearly 200,000 to the economy since January. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson recently wrote, these positions are responsible for big chunks of urban job growth—more than a third of Cleveland’s new hires since 2015 were in restaurants, for example. Many of these types of positions offer fewer, if any, benefits, more onerous and less predictable schedules, and a typical hourly salary of $12.50—not a wage that supports a family in most of the country.