The American Dream used to mean that if you put in a hard day’s work, you could expect good wages, benefits, and a better life for your kids. But the kinds of jobs that can provide a solid middle-class life in return for hard work are in short supply—unemployment is up, hard-won benefits are being lost, and opportunity and hope are diminishing for ourselves and our children. The future of the middle class, which has been the backbone of Washington’s economy for more than half a century, is at risk.
Washington’s strong and vibrant middle class didn’t just happen. It was built brick by brick in the decades after World War II—by the hard work of our parents and grandparents and the strength in numbers that came from the unions that represented them. Unions made sure that as our nation’s wealth and productivity grew, so too did the income and benefits of the people who worked hard to create that wealth. For decades, our nation’s prosperity was widely shared—wages increased and more employers provided their workers with health insurance, pensions, and paid time off. The middle class was also built by government policies that invested in infrastructure and basic science, built up and expanded social insurance and safety net programs, and supported homeownership and made a college education accessible to a new generation.