The world’s first universal jobs guarantee experiment, designed by Oxford University economists and run by the Austrian Public Employment Service, has just begun in the Austrian town of Marienthal.

The scheme is unique in offering a universal guarantee of a properly paid job to every resident who has been unemployed for more than 12 months. As well as getting training and assistance to find work – as happens elsewhere - participants are guaranteed paid work, even if the state must subsidise 100% of the wages or employ participants in the public sector. All participants will be paid at least minimum wage, bringing their income level higher than their previous social security payments.

It works like this: all residents in Marienthal and the surrounding municipality, Gramatneusiedl, who have been unemployed for a year or more will be unconditionally invited to take part. Participants start with a two-month preparatory course, which includes one-to-one training, counselling and, for those who need it, support from experienced social workers, occupational physicians, and psychologists. Participants will then be helped to find a suitable and subsidised private sector job or supported to create a job based on their skills and their knowledge of their community’s needs. 

As well as eliminating long-term unemployment in the region, the scheme aims to offer all participants genuinely useful work, whether it be in childcare, setting up a community café, gardening, home renovations, or some other field. The pilot is designed to test the policy’s outcomes and effectiveness.

With European unemployment rising for its fifth straight month due to the pandemic, UK unemployment rising at its fastest rate since the global financial crisis, and warnings of worse still to come, interest in jobs guarantees has ballooned. Given the serious personal, social, and economic costs associated with unemployment, various academics, trade union bodies, political groups, public health experts and think tanks have all recently called for jobs guarantees to be put in place. 

Unlike basic income schemes, which have been tested, there have not been any trials of jobs guarantees – until now. The Marienthal Job Guarantee pilot will provide crucial evidence to inform debates. 

Lukas Lehner, one of the Oxford University economists who designed the pilot study and will analyse its results said, ‘With many jobs already lost and warnings of a tidal wave of unemployment around the corner, it’s understandable that the idea of a universal jobs guarantee is gaining interest. As well as its economic costs, long-term unemployment takes a terrible toll on people’s health and wellbeing and on family and community life.’

Professor Maximilian Kasy, co-designer of the pilot study and a leading expert in economic research methods and inequality, added, ‘The idea of a jobs guarantee programme is an important addition to the toolkit of social safety provision, especially when participation is voluntary and the jobs offered are meaningful. I am excited to participate in this first ever rigorous, transparent, and independent evaluation of such a jobs guarantee programme.’ 

One of the pilot’s participants, Jennifer, 43, has been unemployed since 2011; she said, ‘I did not want to leave the house. I didn’t want to let others know that I am not doing well. To be part of this project feels like a dream come true. Lacking work you can’t think positively - with work you can. That’s most important to me. If that's right, everything else falls into place.’

Sven Hergovich, managing director of the Public Employment Service, who initiated the programme, said: “Against the backdrop of the most recent, and unprecedented, development in the jobs market we must and will do everything we can to halt the rise in long-term unemployment. This is also a clear aim of central government.”

How is it being paid for?

The Public Employment Service of Lower Austria will fund the project, which will cost €7.4 million. This investment is expected to make economic sense since in Austria a year of unemployment costs approximately €30,000 per person whereas the project is calculated to cost €29,841 per participant. The project’s employment activities are also expected to generate revenues of around €383,000. 

Why Marienthal?

Structural unemployment in Austria has been rising since the 1980s and is being compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. At the end of August, roughly one in five unemployed people in Lower Austria had been looking for a job for more than a year. 

This is not the first time Marienthal has made history. In the 1930s, the town was the site of a ground-breaking social research study on how mass unemployment affected not just incomes but also health, wellbeing, social ties, and community life. This new study returns to examine the opposite effect: how the economy, the community and people’s lives change when they can access guaranteed employment.  

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Notes to editors

For further information please contact Jessica Kaplan, INET Communications Manager: / +44 7956 641 829.  

  • Lukas Lehner is a DPhil candidate at the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School (INET Oxford) and the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford. INET Oxford applies cutting-edge thinking from the social and physical sciences to major economic and social challenges.
  • Maximilian Kasy is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford.
  • Alongside Prof Kasy’s and Mr Lehner’s design of the pilot and their quantitative study of its results, researchers from the University of Vienna will undertake qualitative research with participants.  
  • Prompted by the pandemic, Scottish Labour is calling for a jobs guarantee, as is the TUC. A recent report from the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance likewise recommends a jobs guarantee, and the Social Market Foundation thinktank is calling for a green jobs guarantee.
  • Professor Martin Hensher recently called for job guarantees in the BMJ on public health grounds. The Alliance for Full Employment, headed by Gordon Brown, is calling for a youth jobs guarantee, as is the Mirror newspaper. In the U.S.A, the idea of a jobs guarantee has been gaining ground since 2018, when it was endorsed by Bernie Sanders and the Guardian newspaper; it subsequently formed part of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.  
  • While public employment programmes exist in several countries and a limited jobs guarantee programme exists in India, this is the first experiment with a universal jobs guarantee; the Marienthal job guarantee secures three years’ employment for all long-term unemployed people, whereas in India only one person per household is eligible for 100 days per year guaranteed employment. (Though Marienthal participants can opt for part-time work if it better fits their individual circumstances.)
  • The three-year pilot scheme will be implemented by the Public Employment Service of Lower Austria (AMS NÖ). All residents in Marienthal and the municipality it belongs to (Gramatneusiedl) registered as a job seeker for a year or more will be invited to take part, giving an estimated 150 participants.
  • Preliminary results on the scheme’s effects on unemployment, health, welfare, and social interaction levels, as well as its wider economic impact, will be released in spring 2021.
  • The final report on the study will be published in 2024. For full transparency, the entire research design will be outlined in a pre-analysis plan soon to be registered with the American Economic Association.
  • The original Marienthal study was undertaken by Hans Zeisel, Marie Jahoda and Paul Lazersfeld and published as Marienthal: The Sociography of an Unemployed Community – a book that has since become a major sociological classic.