The economy isn’t working for everyone.
Sure, some metrics might indicate that it is. Under President Obama, we’ve seen 55 consecutive months of private sector job growth , an unemployment rate at the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the recession and the stock market at record highs . But unfortunately, the recovery has not been evenly distributed. Middle- and working-class families are still gasping for air as the incomes of the rich climb ever higher .
Put simply, the people who need a raise the most have seen their incomes stagnate or even fall. It’s time to change that because we deserve an economy that works for all Americans.
Hiding just below the surface of the optimistic statistics about the recovery are numbers that show a disturbing truth — the game is rigged. Over 90 percent of income gains since the end of the recession have gone to the top 1 percent of earners in the United States, leading the top 1 percent to own its highest share of total income since before the Great Depression . CEO pay has ballooned, and the average CEO now earns a staggering 331 times the wage of the average worker. Further, the stock market recovery has redistributed incomes upward towards the rich, since the richest 5 percent of Americans own 82 percent of stocks .
As the rich get richer, average Americans can’t catch a break — through no fault of their own. From 1979 to 2012, worker productivity has grown by 75 percent , but real wages have grown by a meager 5 percent , and they haven’t grown at all in the last two decades . In 2013, wages as a percentage of U.S. GDP fell to the lowest level ever recorded by the Commerce Department, while corporate profits grew to the highest levels in history .
And though the situation looks bleak for middle-class workers, those at the bottom have it even worse. Minimum wage workers haven’t gotten a raise in five years, and a full time minimum-wage job is not enough to make it over the poverty line . As a result, many minimum-wage workers have to turn to public assistance just to survive, which costs taxpayers billions of dollars per year that could be avoided by paying them a fair wage to begin with .
Looking at the rest of the world, it’s clear that it doesn’t have to be this way. America has one of the highest levels of income inequality in any developed country, and our median and minimum wages compare poorly to every other industrialized economy .
Income inequality is also preventing economic mobility. We love to talk about the “American dream,” that working hard and playing by the rules leads to success, but it’s harder for Americans who are born poor to succeed than it is in just about any other advanced nation.
So what does this all mean? It means workers are working harder and more effectively than ever before, but they aren’t seeing any reward because of it. It means companies are taking the productivity gains of the average worker and using them to fatten the paychecks of CEOs and rich shareholders. And it means our government has failed to do enough to stop this disturbing trend .
Thankfully, there are tangible policy prescriptions to fix these issues. First, we need to raise the minimum wage to help those who need it most. We need to encourage labor union membership so that workers have more power to negotiate wage increases and fair labor standards, and we must strengthen programs like Social Security , Unemployment Insurance , and tax credits for workers .
To pay for these programs, we must bolster the progressive tax structure and ensure that millionaires and billionaires are paying the same tax rates as their secretaries.
And we have to continue to ensure everyone has access to affordable health care so that an unexpected sickness or injury doesn’t cost an entire life’s savings.
Democratic politicians have been trying to advance these goals , but they’ve been obstructed by Republicans in the pocket of big business . The only way to change that is to elect new representatives who will fight for the middle class and fight for the average American. So we need you to get out and vote on Nov. 4 and to elect officials who will work for all of us — not just those already at the top.
Penn Democrats is a student-run political organization dedicated to promoting progressive political values on and off campus through dialogue and action. They can be reached at email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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