Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan recently wrote that Republicans won’t help working class Americans and Democrats won’t protect them. Sadly, her insight has been right for some 35 years.
But things are changing in this tumultuous election cycle. Working Americans are seen as the key to victory in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and even Florida. The invisible American is suddenly front and center to candidates.
What can the next president do for working Americans? Meaning: what promises can either of the candidates make now that can be accomplished in the next four or eight years? Because, at the end of the day, candidates are going to make all sorts of promises to get these critical votes.
The answer is complicated for many reasons. Logistically, if current trends hold, our next President will face at least one hostile branch of Congress – Secretary Clinton a likely Republican House and Mr. Trump a possible Democratic Senate. But there are still promises that either candidate could and should make.
A Promise to Raise Wages
The most important step to help working Americans is simply a national raise in pay. America has some 11 million working poor who would be given a boost. A raise in the minimum wage would also increase salaries for low wage workers who are just above poverty levels. It is well known that working class wages have remained stagnant for almost four decades. Individual cities, states, and companies are committing to raising wages. The next leader could promise to make this a federal reality.
Raising wages also symbolizes an investment in those workers who feel companies have not invested in them. For three decades executive salaries at major companies have hit all time highs. Some try to write this phenomena off by saying it is due to forces such as globalization. It seems apparent to the average American, however, that more likely this situation is due to the deliberate policy decisions made at the federal level that support big business and hurt workers and their unions.
These decisions were promoted because big business and trade associations outspent unions by 50 to 1 in political lobbying in the last 15 years. Unions used to represent one quarter of American workers – now it is less than 10%. Power goes to power. And politicians have time and time again said yes to big money and no to working Americans.
The power of the lobbyists and special interests would be a major obstacle in having a Republican House even consider a raise in minimum pay. However, a new political force consisting of unions and millennials is forming and can apply pressure at the local level. A force to which either President would have to pay attention.
However, a President Clinton could pick up on President Obama’s Executive Orders – such as raising the minimum wage for workers of federal contractors. These orders could go into effect immediately, rather than in the last years of the presidency. Standards could be tightened for any applicant for a federal contract regarding minimum pay and union representation. America could see real results.
A Promise to Give Average Americans More Equal Footing
Those billions in lobbying efforts that are being spent every year? They sure do pay off.
The tax code is currently used so that taxpayers subsidize the multi million dollar salaries of executives and the welfare of low wage workers forced to remain in poverty. Instead, the tax code could be used in ways to help businesses – for instance to help those that might find it difficult to reach new minimum wage standards.
Nations such as Germany have legislative policies that put unions in a more equal footing with large corporations. Union representatives are on the Boards of Directors and can directly represent their membership in the board rooms. Such moves would require congressional support but presidential directives could begin the process via federal contracts route.
A Promise to Invest in Workers
Again, until now the working class, was largely invisible to politicians. There are a variety of ways that candidates should promise to invest in employees to install faith. A faith every working class American should have in his/her company and the government. These include:
- Directing federal agencies to research potential jobs that would be least affected by globalization or the rise of technology.
- Tie worker pay to a company’s rise in productivity. Executive pay is commonly related to a company’s rise in stock price which benefits stockholders, but the workers who get the job done are ignored. Why? Because a company, supported by federal legislation, can get away with it.
- Extending health insurance subsidies and extending child care. State Senator Jim Rosapepe, former President Clinton’s Ambassador to Romania, has studied the policies that would help American workers. Senator Rosapepe recommends policies for the worker’s family. These would have immediate benefits to literally millions of workers.
- Extend college aid to cover non degree apprenticeships. As workers prepare for better jobs, Senator Rosapepe recommends helping them cut the cost of getting the skills needed for these jobs.
- Both candidates should stick with existing campaign pledges to oppose TPP and any type of free trade that would take good jobs from American workers.
Recommendations such as these should be non political and should form a beginning dialogue between Republicans and Democrats.
A final major recommendation comes from Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor for President Clinton. His idea was aimed at Secretary Clinton but applies to whoever is the next President. It is a large idea: the next president must start to restore democracy by reducing the power of money in politics and giving the average citizen a voice.
This is the biggest promise our workers need, and a worthwhile one that will immediately start to solve most of our national problems.
Patriotic Millionaire Fred Rotondaro has had a varied career that includes journalism, teaching, anti-poverty and civil rights work, and national association management. He was a senior fellow from 2003 to 2015 at the Center for American Progress where he concentrated on poverty and inequality. He has written extensively for academic and popular publications. He holds a PhD in American Studies from New York University, an honorary doctorate from Wheeling College, and is currently Chair of the Board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.