In his State of the Union address next week, we expect that President Obama will discuss the Affordable Care Act, NSA reform, immigration reform, and climate change. More important, we anticipate that he will renew his commitment to mitigating economic inequality — a theme he began emphasizing last month. We have discussed here and elsewhere the perilous trend of rising inequality. Stan and James devoted much of their book It’s the Middle Class, Stupid to diagnosing and offering solutions for this defining issue of our time.
When the president turns to this theme next week, we hope that he does not dwell on the successes of the economy, which may be apparent in employment statistics, the GDP, and stock market gains, but are not felt at the grocery store.
When he talks about jobs, he should talk only about good jobs. The country needs more jobs, but not jobs that pay $7.25 an hour — a wage that falls short of the federal poverty level for a family of two. The president ought to renew his demand that Congress raise the minimum wage. But he should also demand much more.
Americans need opportunities — real opportunities for affordable education, high-quality job training, and jobs that will invest in their skills.
Americans need economic security. While the housing market has recovered and the credit crisis of 2008 seems long gone, Americans live with more long-term debt than in the past — a drag on middle-class mobility.
Finally, he should call on the private sector to once again invest in its employees and in the American economy — not by sucking all the rewards up toward the top few, but by seeking to decrease inequality with better wages and opportunities.
We know about this because we hear it in our focus groups. This is not the wisdom of people with PhDs, but the wisdom of people who clip coupons:
- “Back six years ago, I was making double the income I’m making now.”
- “Raises aren’t happening, the cost of living continues to rise, bills continue to go up, child care continues to go up.”
- “Cost of food going up but raises aren’t happening in the workplace so it’s going to be really hard for people to afford food.”
- “[The new jobs] are those jobs…you can live off of? Does it balance with the cost of living…how many of those are actual livable wages?”
- “Places are having two part-time workers versus one worker.”
- “Most of my family and friends are…making ends meet, but they’re struggling so I would say they’re pretty much…average people in the economy. They’ve got financial…worry in the back of their minds: ‘if something happens, what am I going to do?”
- “The best word to describe my household finances is ‘precarious.'”
This is the wisdom of people who experience the economy not through macroeconomic data, but through their everyday lives. And these are the policies that will make a tangible difference for them.
We doubt, however, that John Boehner and the House Republicans will allow any of these policies to come to a vote on the floor of the House in 2014. We can only hope American voters will hold them to account for their inaction next November.
For more polling and expert analysis, visit DemocracyCorps.com
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