Growing – and sharing – the economic pie

May 22, 2008 | Aaron Keating

Today’s workers have a lot on their plates. Whether its the cost of food, gas and housing, keeping a steady job in a rapidly changing economy, finding long-term care for parents or daycare for the kids – and for many people, it’s all that and then some – it’s too much to take on alone.

The strain is showing on our families. More and more middle-class Americans say they aren’t better off than they were five years ago, reflecting economic pressures amid growing personal debt. People are are worried they will run out of money in retirement.

It’s not the first time we’ve faced big problems. Historically, Americans have drawn security from our willingness to pitch in together in the face of a crisis. We’ve created opportunity based on a moral commitment to ensuring each of us gets a fair start in life. And by doing so we’ve unleashed the power of prosperity, giving people the freedom to make of their lives what they will.

Every talking point and debate about taxes and government today is really about whether we can apply these same time-tested lessons to modern problems. For example:

Pitching in: Our parents and grandparents funded the GI bill, Medicare, Social Security, and a new freeway system for our country. Everyone benefited to some degree, but very wealthy individuals and businesses that have reaped greater rewards from shared public investments have a natural obligation to pay a larger share of that debt forward to the next generation.

Good schools, healthy senior citizens, a safe retirement, well-trained workers, and a 21st century transportation system all cost money, and are worth every dime.

A fair start: Parents are a child’s first and best teachers, but downward pressure on wages and benefits is makes it all but impossible for many parents to be there for their kids. That’s not a fair deal for our children, parents or employers.

As Social Security does for our elderly, Family Leave Insurance does for our youngest – it protects vulnerable lives that can’t easily protect themselves. It gives parents a real choice to care for their families, and provides a boon to small shops as well, by leveling the playing field with big businesses.

Unleashing prosperity: Inflation doesn’t just erode household purchasing power, it hurts local businesses because people have less money to spend on main street. A decent minimum wage, indexed to inflation, plows more dollars right back into the local economy.

These annual cost of living adjustments provide employers with predictability. Employers know well in advance the amount of the modest annual increases, rather than facing occasional big jumps that result from a partisan political process.

So we face big challenges – but collectively, we’ve got good answers to them.

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Posted in Education, Minimum Wage, Retirement Security, Social Security, Tax and Budget, Work & Family

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