The Missing Living Wage Agenda

Nov 20, 2012Annette BernhardtDorian Warren

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a long-term plan to provide justice on the job for all workers.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a long-term plan to provide justice on the job for all workers.

Now that the election is over, our hope is that we can finally move beyond the vacuous invocations of an imaginary middle class where everyone is in the same boat. It’s time to get real about the concrete policies needed to take on the multiple inequalities that run deep through the U.S. labor market. And we’re not talking about the “skills mismatch,” another red herring routinely flung into this debate by both sides (including by President Obama as recently as the last week of the campaign).

What we’re talking about is a broad, multi-year agenda to give America’s workers a living wage and voice on the job and to take on the continuing exclusion of workers of color, immigrants, and women from good jobs. The media may have discovered inequality last year with the surprise emergence of Occupy Wall Street, but in truth, there is a 30-year backlog of policies to fix the extreme maldistribution of wages and opportunity in the labor market.

First, we have to make our core workplace standards much stronger – whether it’s in terms of wages, health and safety, or voice on the job. That means raising the minimum wage so that it’s a meaningful floor again (some good news: voters in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach raised theirs last week). It means updating health and safety regulations written in the 1970s. And it means restoring the right to organize, because at this point, virulent employer opposition and retaliation has rendered U.S. labor law obsolete. Fifty-eight percent of U.S. workers say they would like to be represented by a union, but only 11.8 percent actually are. This is what happens when one out of four workers is fired illegally for attempting to organize a union while employers face minimal penalties.

Second, we have to take on the profound reorganization of the American workplace. The poster child for precarious work is temp jobs – but subcontracting has had a much broader impact, as janitors, laundry workers, warehouse workers, security guards, food service workers, and millions of others have been outsourced to low-wage firms. A good model for a solution is California’s recent law making companies liable for minimum wage and overtime violations by their subcontractors, recognizing that end-user firms such as Walmart exert considerable control over working conditions down their supply chains.   

Third, we have to double down on enforcement. A 2008 study of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York found that 26 percent of low-wage workers were paid less than the minimum wage and 76 percent were underpaid or not paid at all for their overtime hours. Yet the number of federal wage and hour inspectors is still below 1980 levels, and it would take 131 years for OSHA investigators to inspect each workplace just once. Until employers face substantial costs to their bottom line (as is true in other bodies of law, such as environmental regulation and employment discrimination law), practices like wage theft, retaliation against workers trying to organize a union, and independent contractor misclassification will continue unabated.

Fourth, we have to do a better job of leveraging the government’s capital. Public money touches millions of private-sector jobs, whether by purchasing goods and services for the government or by funding everything from schools and bridges to health care and social services. There are plenty of innovative models to ensure that this money results in good jobs, whether it’s responsible contracting policies (in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Illinois), living wage laws (in more than 140 cities and counties), or accountable economic development policies (in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and New York City, among others).

Fifth, we have to explicitly break down systemic labor market exclusions of people of color, immigrants, women, the unemployed, and people with criminal records. For example, advocates are pushing the U.S. Department of Labor to finally end the exemption of home care workers from minimum wage and overtime protection, and cities across the country are passing “ban the box” policies to reduce hiring barriers for people with arrest or conviction records.  

But we also have to challenge de facto exclusions. A good example is targeted hiring and training programs on publicly funded projects, which in our mind will be crucial to solving the escalating (and chronically under-reported) economic crisis in communities of color. A great example is Portland’s 2009 residential retrofitting program, which mandated living wages and local hiring from designated training programs. As of last year, the program’s workers earned median wages of $18 per hour; fully 84 percent were local residents, nearly half of them people of color. While unemployment is still at Depression-era levels in many black communities, we know what works to employ those still excluded from access to the labor market.

A final word on why we think these policies (and many others; see the long-form version here) are politically viable. In communities across the country, there is an undeniable thirst for justice on the job and investment in local communities. This is true not just for raising the minimum wage, which consistently polls in the 70-80 percent range, but also policies such as paid sick days, increased funding for elder care and child care, cracking down on wage theft, using taxpayer money to create living wage jobs, and restoring the right to organize.

(If you doubt support for organizing, consider the recent wave of strikes by Walmart workers, or New York’s taxi workers organizing for better pay even though they are independent contractors, or Palermo’s pizza workers in Wisconsin staying out on strike for three months and now pressuring Costco to boycott their employer.)

The real question is whether President Obama and Democrats in Congress understand that raising taxes on the top 2 percent is only the first step on a long road toward building a sustainable living wage economy in the U.S. Our hope lies in the growing recognition among progressives that it will take the pressure and power of social movements to convince him to walk that road with us.

Annette Bernhardt and Dorian Warren are Fellows at the Roosevelt Institute.

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The Fiscal Cliff Showdown Will Set the Agenda for the Next Four Years

Nov 16, 2012Richard Kirsch

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a look at the four biggest budget issues that will be debated in the next four months.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a look at the four biggest budget issues that will be debated in the next four months.

The very next day after the election, congressional leaders held dueling press conferences in Washington to start the stampede to the fiscal cliff. But December 31st is not a cliff; it’s a slope. Actually, the better metaphor is a showdown between two different visions for the country – a showdown that will not only take place over the next four months, but will dominate debate about the economy for the next four years.

It is true that if Congress allows the tax hikes and spending cuts to be fully implemented, the economy will go into a tailspin, with four million people forced out of their jobs. But that won’t happen on January 1st. The impact of both tax hikes and spending cuts take time to accumulate. If Congress acts on taxes early in the year, it can make lower tax rates retroactive to the beginning of the year. Between federal contracts already in place and the time it takes to implement program cuts, budget cuts too will take a while before they slow down the economy. Better for Congress to walk down and back up the slope early in the year than be stampeded into bad decisions.

In this showdown we have a choice between two paths: prosperity for working families and the middle class or more for millionaires and CEOs. While the showdown will play out in the next few months, the issues will continue to set the economic agenda for the president’s second term. Both the immediate and continued battles will be over four issues: taxes, social insurance, federal discretionary spending, and investments to create jobs.

1. Taxes: The immediate battle will be whether or not to end the Bush tax rates on income over $250,000. The president has rightly made this his line in the sand. If Republican don’t budge, Democrats should wait until next year when all the Bush tax cuts expire, forcing House Republicans to continue to protect tax preferences for the wealthy while taxes go up on working and middle-class families.

The four-year agenda is to restore progressivity to the tax system. Progressives should define tax reform as taxing wealth at the same rate as income from work and enacting higher rates on the highest incomes. With corporate taxes the lowest they have ever been as a share of federal revenue, our agenda should be to end the loopholes and tax preferences for corporations that ship profits and jobs overseas and the breaks from exploiting our natural resources. We should raise more money from a loophole-free corporate tax system.

2. Social insurance: The big three social insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – are all protected from the automatic spending cuts, but that hasn’t stopped deficit hawks from trying to bring them into the upcoming debate. Changes to Social Security, like the Simpson-Bowles plan’s “adjustments” to the COLA that will result in 15 percent or more cuts in benefits to middle-class recipients, may well be put on the table as part of “grand bargain.” Democrats should follow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who declared that Social Security is not on the agenda. Over the next four years, progressives should push for the obvious fix to the projected shortfall in the Social Security trust fund: raising or eliminating the cap on how much of earnings are subject to Social Security payroll taxes. That solution would extend the life of the trust fund to 2075 and beyond. It is politically popular, easy to explain, and fits within the broader progressive theme of a tax system that bolsters working families and the middle class by requiring a little more from those with more.

While Social Security does not add a dime to federal deficits, the same can’t be said of the rising pressures of health care spending on Medicare and Medicaid. Both programs should remain off the immediate fiscal showdown agenda, with Democrats pointing out that health care inflation over the past two years is at the lowest level in decades. Some of that is because of changes being put in place by the Affordable Care Act, which has a number of measures to control health care spending in Medicare by eliminating wasteful care and overpayments to health insurance companies. The big agenda for the next four years on health care is to continue to accelerate the changes put in place by the ACA, including that new panel – which the right likes to demonize – that will push Medicare to force providers to provide better care or see their revenues drop. Another top priority is for the federal government as well as states to follow what Massachusetts is doing: use the new health care marketplaces to review health insurance company rate increases and pressure health care providers to provide better quality care at lower cost.

3: Federal discretionary spending: The choice here is straightforward: the amount of revenue raised from ending the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000 is almost the same as the total cuts to federal discretionary spending. Republicans are eager to stop the Pentagon’s half of the automatic cuts. While many Democrats want to protect the Pentagon, they also want to block the slashing of vital services for families and all the other things – from environmental protections to diplomatic functions – that the federal government does. Progressives should focus on those services that most support low-income and working families, like Pell grants, Head Start, WIC, and food stamps. These are very popular with the public and make the choice crystal clear.

In response to the Pentagon lobbying for more, progressives should argue that Pentagon spending can easily be trimmed, since even if the automatic cuts go through the Pentagon will still be spending more than at the height of the Cold War. Over the next four years, progressives will need to drive home the point that Pentagon spending creates far fewer jobs than spending on health care, education, and other domestic programs, so that reshaping the Pentagon for the 21st century makes both military and economic sense.

It is crucial that progressives link spending choices to jobs. For example, if unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed is allowed to expire at the end of the year, the loss of benefits to 5 million people will result in another 448,000 being pushed onto the unemployment rolls in 2013. In fact, the biggest job losses among the many choices facing Congress would come from ending long-term unemployment insurance and cutting domestic spending.

4. Good jobs: One thing not on the immediate fiscal agenda is a program to create good jobs. It should be, as the sluggish economy and long-term decline in wages and benefits promises to keep millions of Americans out of work and a growing share of the workforce struggling to make ends meet. Progressive should use the fiscal showdown to go beyond highlighting the job impact of spending cuts. Instead, we should put forth a two-pronged jobs agenda and make this the central push for the next four years.

One prong is investment to create jobs: infrastructure, green jobs, “caring jobs” like day care, elder care, and putting more teachers in our classrooms. We should be pushing for a big youth jobs program. The second prong is job quality: restoring the rights of people to effectively organize unions, modernizing basic work standards by doing thing like raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, and requiring all employers to provide a set number of paid sick days.

The Affordable Care Act will address the growing problem of jobs not coming with health care; here implementation is key. We should also be pushing for the establishment of a new retirement program, such as proposed by Senator Tom Harkin, under which workers would put aside a share of earnings in a pooled, professionally managed plan, with guaranteed, lifetime benefits at retirement or upon permanent disability.

The push for the comprehensive progressive economic agenda above – fair taxes, stronger social insurance programs, protecting vital public services for working families, and investment in good jobs – should start with the upcoming fiscal showdown. The battle between a vision of prosperity for working families and the middle class versus more for millionaires and CEOs is one we should wage for the next four years.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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To Solve the Jobs Emergency, Put Government to Work for Us

Nov 14, 2012Jeff Madrick

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a reminder that creating more good jobs must be the president's top priority.

The presidential victory of Barack Obama was an important vindication for the uses of government. The small-government ideologues were defeated, but now the nation must go farther and recognize government is indeed a job creator.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a reminder that creating more good jobs must be the president's top priority.

The presidential victory of Barack Obama was an important vindication for the uses of government. The small-government ideologues were defeated, but now the nation must go farther and recognize government is indeed a job creator.

Let’s begin with the harsh facts: Neither policymakers nor the media fully understand or communicate that America has a jobs emergency. In his victory speech last Tuesday, President Obama did not even cite job creation as one of his four main goals for the new term. Not only is unemployment high, but wages are stagnant and poverty is rising in an economic recovery. The evidence on the creation of low-wage jobs rather than high-wage jobs is almost frightening; the Roosevelt Institute’s own Annette Bernhardt has been a leader on this.

Our mainstream economists are not of much help. Many, though not all, are loathe to blame globalization for low wages in America. We hear almost nothing from them regarding Wall Street’s role in wage suppression, although American business was obsessed with creating rising short-term profits to appease Wall Street, which rewarded such consistency with high stock prices. Add to this the pressures of LBOs, privatizations, and hostile takeover threats. Little is discussed of the role of the Federal Reserve in maintaining a tight monetary policy until the late 1990s, in my view suppressing wages as an objective. Finally, almost nothing is heard of the benefits of adequate demand, except in the current crisis, in creating productivity growth over the long run, even as China and Japan have clearly suffered secularly from a lack of demand.

All of these mainstream economists warmly support the view that skill-biased technology is the main cause of stagnating wages. But such technologies cannot explain the runaway of incomes at the top. Nor can they explain the lesser inequality in Europe, which is also subject to technological change.

In my view, we need a very aggressive, jobs-related agenda. This includes aggressive fiscal stimulus over the next two years amounting to as much as $500 billion and focused on infrastructure, aid to the states, and extending unemployment insurance. These will meet dire needs and also will have the most GDP bang for the buck.

The minimum wage should be raised to end poverty for all those who work full-time, and a living wage, or something close to it, should be demanded for all federal contracts.  

Industrial policies to target critical new technologies should be aggressively pursued, which might require infant industry protection.

Policies to help our trading partners develop a progressive revolution, including higher wages, the right to labor organizing, and decent labor conditions should be emphasized. As reflected in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the opposite is occurring. All emphasis is on protecting investors, very little on workers. This would also go some way to creating a more level playing field in trade.

A federal jobs-creating program, similar to those in the New Deal, should be undertaken, emphasizing construction jobs in public works, teaching, and care workers. Tax rates should be raised sharply on the well-off to ameliorate the temporary increase in the federal deficit. Such taxes will not reduce the GDP multiplier very much.

Wall Street pressure to cut wages must be softened. Business executive compensation must be more closely aligned to long-term results. The tax deduction on borrowing for LBOs, privatizations, and corporate takeovers should be sharply reduced or eliminated.

In addition to these immediate needs, there are three longer-term policies we must pursue. First, in three years or so, America will need a sharp tax increase. Its average tax rate, including federal, state, and local, is 10 percentage points below the OECD average. If that is reduced to five percentage points, it would raise nearly $1 billion more a year. There is little evidence such an increase would impede economic growth.

Second, any such tax increase should only partly be used to pay down the debt. It should be used to shore up major entitlements programs, develop a public option for health care, and increase infrastructure and education spending.

Finally, although educational deficiency is not the primary cause of the current wage problem, it will be in the long run. A major educational equalization campaign is necessary, which includes pre-K for all.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

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Voters Demand a Progressive Second Term Agenda

Nov 13, 2012Felicia Wong

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a call for progressives to seize the moment after Election Day.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a call for progressives to seize the moment after Election Day.

Last week’s election results weren’t just a win for the president. Across the board, voters went to the polls and registered their support for progressive values, supporting needed tax increases, passing marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and giving a candidate who ran on a platform of proactive government and a strong safety net a second term. The message was clear: despite an economy that continues to recover too slowly, the direction that progressives are taking the country in is the right one.

The polling we have done with Democracy Corps makes it plain – voters don’t want austerity or cuts in Medicare and Social Security. They want to fix the economy with long-term investments in infrastructure and a focus on jobs. And they want solutions – like raising taxes on the well-off and reforming the financial industry – that can raise the revenue to pay for it. As Hurricane Sandy made apparent, we need to update the country’s infrastructure, and we can put people back to work doing it.

So our job has just begun. Now is when we really have to roll up our sleeves and work to achieve an ambitious agenda. The politics won’t necessarily be much easier than they were over the last four years. But with a Democratic president, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and an electorate strongly behind us, progressives have an opportunity to seize over the next four years.

Over the next few weeks, Roosevelt Institute Fellows and staff will weigh in with their thoughts on what our national agenda should look like. While we might differ on some of the specifics, we all agree on basic values and goals: reducing inequality, creating jobs, kick-starting economic growth, building a community among the American people, and regaining trust in both the private sector through functioning markets and in the government and our political system.

On the eve of a second Obama term, and with some fundamental economic and political choices before us, we are proud to be in this historic moment together, Our goals are ambitious. We believe that our ideas can have real impact. As President Franklin Roosevelt put it 80 years ago, “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.” Nothing could be truer of our times. Progressives must lead the way.

Felicia Wong is President and CEO of the Roosevelt Institute.

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What We’re Not Talking About When We Talk About Inequality

Oct 31, 2012Joelle Gamble

It's not enough to maintain a safety net that catches people when they fall. We have to keep them from falling in the first place.

It's not enough to maintain a safety net that catches people when they fall. We have to keep them from falling in the first place.

As a millennial, my generation has been told that if we simply work hard and go to college we will be able to achieve even greater economic gains than our parents. That promise now rings false. The gap between the economic have and have-nots is widening dramatically. Those of us who grow up in middle or low-income families may not have the opportunity to move up the socioeconomic ladder. With the widening gulf between rich and poor hampering economic opportunity so markedly that economist Alan Kreuger has named the phenomenon the Great Gatsby Curve, we need to ask ourselves if our political leadership is taking the right steps to address inequality in America.

The current election debate has focused on progressive tax policy and debt reduction as the central components of how government will both spur growth and reduce inequality in America. We only hear about how education, infrastructure, and health care play into the debate on specific occasions, such as when a question is directed toward one of those topics.

Meanwhile, the conversation around government priorities, outside of direct fiscal policy, has been limited to what programs people will lose if a particular candidate is elected. The two major presidential candidates, as well as many down ticket national candidates, regularly accuse each other of wanting to destroy social security “as it is” or restrict access to Medicare for seniors.

How we change tax rates on the middle class and how we continue to fund our social safety net are both important questions. Our government must ensure that the tax code is working fairly. It must make sure that social programs protect individuals when they fall. But the larger drivers of our economic growth and equality in the United States are being largely ignored in favor of these narrow topics. It is not enough to catch people when they fall. Government must, more importantly, ensure that its citizens have the equal access to resources that will make them less likely to fall in the first place. By providing equality and opportunity, we can spur long-term economic growth and prevent higher costs.

There are some investments that government can make that will do more for long-term economic growth and equality in America than others. Investing in education and job training, building a strong infrastructure of Internet access, and providing quality health care has been shown to not only reduce inequality but also promote economic growth.

Education and training are paramount in providing job opportunities. One of the largest factors affecting earnings inequality in the United States is technological change. Innovation has caused many modern companies and industries to become increasingly dependent on the availability of human capital found in the communities in which they are located. Areas with higher percentages of college-educated works are doing better at attracting and retaining business (and the jobs they bring) than areas with less educated populations. American workers need affordable access to education and skills training to be able to compete in the changing labor market.

Future worker competitiveness will also depend on building strong information infrastructure, especially increasing access to high-speed Internet, as Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford rightly argues. Technology has created jobs that require workers to be able to work with large quantities of information and work collaboratively with partners who may not live in the same country, yet alone the same city. Even simple processes such as job applications or unemployment benefit applications now require access to a stable Internet connection. Currently, around one-third of Americans lack access to high-speed Internet.

As has been widely shown, access to quality, affordable health care reduces costs for individuals and their families, as well as American taxpayers as a whole. In the absence of access to affordable preventative care, only individuals with significant financial resources can pay for regular doctor visits, examinations and, potentially, long hospital stays. For those without large incomes, these basic health care needs can severely affect their ability to pay bills and sometimes send them into bankruptcy. Beyond basic care and insurance, affordable care for reproductive health services can serve as a step toward gender parity.

Not only do education, Internet access, and health care move us toward a more equal society, they also give taxpayers more for their tax-dollar. Individuals without access to quality schools and health care grow up to have fewer choices and opportunities to get high-skill, high-pay jobs that offer benefits. This makes them more likely to need social programs during the course of their lives. Making a stronger initial investment in programs such as education and heath care that give people opportunities is wiser than allowing the negative effects of failing to do so cripple the federal budget and the economy over the long run.

Making a stronger initial investment in opportunity via programs such as education and heath care is wiser than allowing the negative effects of not making those investments cripple the federal budget and the economy over the long run. None of this is to say that spending on defense, physical infrastructure, and our basic social safety net are not needed. But the United States needs to change its priorities and push for long-term planning with investments in long-term results. Education, information, and quality care are key to producing a more equitable society.

Joelle Gamble is Deputy Field Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Paying Taxes to Your Boss: Another Step Toward 21st Century Feudalism

Oct 26, 2012Tim Price

Employers are already treating their workers like their subjects. Now some of them get to collect taxes, too.

Employers are already treating their workers like their subjects. Now some of them get to collect taxes, too.

Though a lot of Americans really (really, really) hate paying taxes, most of us can at least justify it as our contribution to some greater good, whether it’s the broad range of social programs favored by progressives or a libertarian night watchman state. But what if the government instead told us, “We don’t want your money, but we would like to make friends with some rich guys, so just give it to them and let them have fun with it”? That could soon be the law of the land in Pennsylvania, where the state legislature has passed a bill that would, as Philadelphia City Paper blogger Daniel Denvir describes it, “allow companies that hire at least 250 new workers in the state to keep 95-percent of the workers' withheld income tax.” These workers will essentially be paying their employers for the privilege of having a job. Some have called this “corporate socialism,” but it also calls to mind an even older economic model that was once popular in Europe – except back then, the bosses were called lords. It’s a more modern innovation in the U.S., but combined with increased political pressure from employers and a crackdown on workers’ rights, it all adds up to feudalism, American-style.

The Pennsylvania bill is just the most recent example of state income taxes being turned into employer subsidies. It’s already the law of the land in one form or another in 19 states, and according to Good Jobs First, it’s taking $684 million a year out of the public coffers. The theory is that this will boost job creation. But the authors of the Good Jobs First report note, “payments often go to firms that simply move existing jobs from one state to another, or to ones that threaten to move unless they get paid to stay put.” In other words, it’s more like extortion than stimulus. With state governments facing a projected $4 trillion budget shortfall and continuing to cut social services and public sector jobs, they can hardly afford to be wasting money on companies that already have plenty and have no intention of putting it to good use. And the more governments turn over their privileges to businesses, the more the distinction between the two becomes blurred.

But if corporations have state governments over a barrel, they have their employees stuffed inside the barrel and ready to plunge down the waterfall. As I’ve noted before, some conservatives view all taxation as theft, but there’s surely no better term for what happens when employers promise their workers a certain wage or salary and then pocket some of the money for themselves. When you pay taxes to the government, you get something in return, whether it’s a school for your kids or a road to drive on or a firefighter to rescue you from a burning building. When you pay taxes to your boss, you… well, you give your boss your money. Your only reward is that you get to continue to “work the land,” so to speak. The lords didn’t consult with the peasants on which tapestries they should buy with the money they collected from them.

Did I forget to mention that these employers aren’t even required to tell their workers that this is how their “income taxes” are being used? Journalist David Cay Johnston, who covers this issue in his new book, The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use ‘Plain English’ to Rob You Blind, writes that this bait-and-switch is “stealthy by design.” Of course it is; if these workers were important enough to know where their money is going, it wouldn’t be legal to steal it.

Employers may be able to exert pressure, but they can’t actually control who you support, right? Well, they might not be able to accompany you to the voting booth (yet), but if you work in a state that allows your employer to confiscate your tax withholdings and donate them to a pro-Romney Super PAC, they can turn you into a Romney supporter whether you like it or not. It’s not enough that our current campaign finance system gives wealthy executives nearly unchecked power to support the candidate of their choice; subsidizing them with income taxes allows them to choose for everyone in their fiefdom.

If employers were always secretive about their exploitation, the comparison to feudalism might not seem apt – after all, serfs were pretty clear on what the score was. But there’s nothing subtle about the way some employers have begun to apply political pressure in the workplace. From forcing workers to attend Romney rallies without pay to outright threatening their jobs if President Obama is reelected, employers in the post-Citizens United era are feeling emboldened to conscript their employees as bannermen for the candidates of their choice. Suddenly, a job is not just a job, but an oath of allegiance. And Republicans, at least, are all for it. Mike Elk reports that Mitt Romney himself urged business owners to lobby their employees on his behalf, assuring them that there is “Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business.” And as we all know, if you can’t technically be arrested or fined for doing something, that means it’s totally okay to do it. Q.E.D., coal miners.

This lopsided power dynamic is reflected more generally in the shoddy state of modern labor law. In most states employers can fire their workers whenever they want for pretty much any reason, forcing them to fall in line with even the pettiest demands. When your boss is trying to tell you when you can and can’t go to the bathroom, forcing you to hide your Obama bumper sticker seems like an almost trifling concern in comparison. This lack of employee agency has led Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren to describe today’s employers as “mini-dictators,” and as more public funds are diverted to private business owners, that comparison is only becoming more literal.

If conservative policymakers succeed in their nationwide effort to eliminate collective bargaining rights and neutralize already weakened unions, conditions aren’t likely to get better for workers anytime soon. Business owners and corporate execs will continue to assert more and more authority, bending their workers’ will to their own while using those workers’ paychecks to solidify their power. But there’s still hope of turning things around and restoring a more balanced playing field. If more American workers take note of the fact that two of their least favorite people, the tax collector and their boss, are being combined into one entity, it might just spark enough anger for them to fight back. As the feudal lords eventually learned, the peasants were the ones holding the pitchforks.

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

 

Businessman with crown image via Shutterstock.com.

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What Do We Get Out of Government?

Oct 25, 2012

"Let us not be afraid to help each other -- let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us." FDR said those words in Marietta, Ohio in July 1938, but it's just as relevant today. As conservatives continue to deride every attempt to create progressive change through government as an oppressive socialist takeover, we need to remember that government is nothing more or less than an expression of common initative -- a forum through which we come together to build the things we need to make our country stronger.

"Let us not be afraid to help each other -- let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us." FDR said those words in Marietta, Ohio in July 1938, but it's just as relevant today. As conservatives continue to deride every attempt to create progressive change through government as an oppressive socialist takeover, we need to remember that government is nothing more or less than an expression of common initative -- a forum through which we come together to build the things we need to make our country stronger. In the video below, the Roosevelt Institute's Rediscovering Government Initiative looks at the government's vital role in every facet of society, from encouraging innovation to defending our shores, and at what we can still achieve if we're willing to dream big.

Click here to find out how you can get involved in the Rediscovering Government Roadshow.

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New Deal Numerology: A Second Act in Politics

Oct 19, 2012Tim Price

This week's numbers: 58%; 3%; 1; 4; 27%

58%... is a mixed number. That’s how many CNN viewers thought Romney would do a better job of handling the economy after the second debate. They heard him say “I know what it takes” so many times, they just assume he’ll tell them the secret one day.

3%... is a qualified number. According to Reuters, that’s how much higher Obama scored on appearing presidential after the second debate, which should bump him up to 103 percent, since he is literally the president.

This week's numbers: 58%; 3%; 1; 4; 27%

58%... is a mixed number. That’s how many CNN viewers thought Romney would do a better job of handling the economy after the second debate. They heard him say “I know what it takes” so many times, they just assume he’ll tell them the secret one day.

3%... is a qualified number. According to Reuters, that’s how much higher Obama scored on appearing presidential after the second debate, which should bump him up to 103 percent, since he is literally the president.

1... is a premature number. That’s how many jobs were created during the debate, as Romney promised one to his first questioner if he’s elected. Just 11,999,999 to go and he can cross unemployment off his first-term agenda.

4... is a verbose number. That’s how many more minutes Obama got to speak than Romney did, which critics cite as evidence of moderator bias. But he also spoke longer during the first debate, which suggests that it really helps to have something to say.

27%... is an unbound number. That’s how many senior staff positions were held by women by the end of Mitt Romney’s term as governor -- a 3 percent drop from when he took office. Was he collecting all those women in binders so he could trade them for a good rookie card?

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

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Despite a Strong Debate, Obama Remains Vulnerable on the Economy

Oct 18, 2012Jeff Madrick

The president found his voice in the second debate, but he still needs to make a clearer case for the progress he's made.

There has been entirely too much celebrating about President Obama’s debate performance on Tuesday. He did very well, without a doubt. He won hands down. He didn’t get into the ring cold, and he showed that he knew his stuff—and that Romney really didn’t.

The president found his voice in the second debate, but he still needs to make a clearer case for the progress he's made.

There has been entirely too much celebrating about President Obama’s debate performance on Tuesday. He did very well, without a doubt. He won hands down. He didn’t get into the ring cold, and he showed that he knew his stuff—and that Romney really didn’t.

But the economy remains the ace in the hole for Romney and Ryan. We haven’t nearly recovered in terms of jobs, and that’s a tough fact to slide by. The unemployment rate rose rapidly in Bush’s last term to around 8 percent, then peaked in 2009 at 10 percent and slowly came down to its current level. So we are only back to the start of the Obama term. No one ever won the presidency with a 7.8 percent unemployment rate. And we know, as Romney keeps reminding us, that median family income is awful and that poverty is up.

Everyone knows this, and yet Obama did not have a good enough explanation of how much progress has been made. He sounded defensive. So Obama needs a strong, non-defensive explanation of his achievements, and one way to put it is what would have happened had Romney won the presidency in 2008. You’d have a 10 percent unemployment rate with Romney as president. Poverty would be way up. He’d be blaming Social Security and Medicare for all his problems, and he’s find economists to claim he was right. They might already be cutting these programs forever “in order to save them.” It’s triage -- throw the elderly out of the boat and let everyone else eat the rations. People would be poorer. They would get less health care. Those in poverty would have fewer benefits. Is that the kind of America you want?

Odds are that Romney, if he put the Romney-Ryan plan into effect, would create a bigger deficit, too. That’s actually what we need, but a deficit based on tax cuts will create few jobs. (EPI ran some numbers based on Mark Zandi's multipliers.) And if Romney did close the many tax holes he promises to, recession is almost guaranteed even as your taxes rise.

This concept is tough to communicate in a credible way. It just sounds like economists bickering. But there is a record out there: George W. Bush’s. His central economic policy was tax cuts for the rich, and he produced the slowest job growth of any president since the Depression. Romney will do that again. Promise.

Obama has to be clear: He stopped a depression. He is getting the housing market to come back after the worst devastation since the early 1930s. Employment stopped falling. But he shows hesitation in critical areas. Will he protect Social Security and Medicare? If so, then say so. The other guys will cut it, even gut it. But is he vacillating too much here. The talk about Dodd-Frank doesn’t win him many points because most of America thinks the banks got away with murder. He needs a better way of talking about that. As for Obamacare, he is talking about its good points, but he needs to be bolder still. List them all, and list them fast.

And when he says Romney is lying, which is a deliberate motif of the Republican game plan, don’t say he lied with a smile. Say, "It makes me very sad and disheartened when the governor misleads the American people. It is unfair to you voters. And when challenged, my opponent will come back and tell you again, that’s not what his program is, or he never said that. Be proud of your claims, Governor Romney; don’t back off them to win over some in the middle of the pack. Tell them where you really stand."

Finally, it is critical to be constructive about the uses of government. Tell America the only way the country will succeed and the economy will remain prosperous is if we bring everyone with us. Every American must be able to contribute to the economy with a good education and good health. Every region must have good, dependable transportation. Every part of America must breathe clean air. Government can do that.

Unfortunately, there is no third debate about domestic matters since the next one is on international events. But I bet we get back to the economy in the third debate. I hope so. Democrats have to realize that every time Romney says "just look at the record," they are behind the eight ball. Obama needs a very clear, persuasive statement about how bad the economy was in 2009 and how much he did. He stopped the bleeding. The patient was in the hospital. Who put him there? The Republicans, with the same plan Romney is offering today. The patient is resuscitated. Jobs are coming back. The housing market has turned the corner. Everyone is still getting Social Security and Medicare. And now 30 million more will have health insurance. 

Oops, I've already said all this. Sorry, readers. But why do I have to keep repeating it?

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s Rediscovering Government initiative and author of Age of Greed.

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Roosevelt Reacts: At the Presidential Debate, Mitt Misleads and Obama Omits

Oct 4, 2012

After the first presidential debate last night, which focused entirely on domestic policy, Fellows and staff from the Four Freedoms Center, Campus Network, and Pipeline weigh in with what was said, what was left out, and what was just an outright fib.

After the first presidential debate last night, which focused entirely on domestic policy, Fellows and staff from the Four Freedoms Center, Campus Network, and Pipeline weigh in with what was said, what was left out, and what was just an outright fib.

Thomas Ferguson, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute; Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Contributing Editor, AlterNet:

My first reaction is simple: These guys have some nerve talking so cavalierly about teachers. Virtually from their first words, both the president and Governor Romney got lost in a fog of details. They begged questions, frequently argued from different premises, tossed off too many details without context, and rarely held a focus long enough for many in the audience to discern what they were talking about. The effort was a case study in how not to illuminate very much.

So what? I’d guess that Romney’s endless talk about “jobs” may persuade a few of his listeners that somehow his arithmetic actually does add up, but that number probably will not be large. I suspect, too, that the president’s highlighting how Romney’s voucher plans might change Medicare even for Americans now in their fifties probably was widely understood, too, and will work in the opposite direction. Possibly Romney, by not looking wooden, might pick up some tiny increment of public support. But my guess is that this debate changed few minds for all the talk of a Romney “victory.” My own takeaway is that both candidates’ harping on the genius of the American people and the virtues of the market system made it easy to lose sight of virtually all the important points at issue. I’d say the candidates battled to close to a draw, while America lost.

Dorian Warren, Fellow, Roosevelt Institute; Associate Professor of Political Science & School of International & Public Affairs, Columbia University:

Debates are rarely game-changers in presidential elections, and last night's debate was no different. The quick assessments of Romney's more aggressive performance compared to President Obama's weak and sleepy responses are correct, as far as they go. But we should remember that incumbents always do poorly in the first debate. As political scientist Sam Popkin argues, sitting presidents don't have time for debate prep, and they aren't used to being challenged the way Romney challenged Obama last night. Clearly, the Obama team's strategy was for the president to play it safe and not come across as an angry black man. We also know that Obama has never been a good debater -- recall the 2007 Democratic Primary debates where both Hilary Clinton and John Edwards put in consistently better performances. Obviously, we know who won the nomination despite his weak performance relative to his adversaries. What will happen now through the next debate will be fact-checking the claims made by both candidates followed by obsessive poll watching to see if and how the numbers move. In the end, of the small number of voters uncommitted, last night's debate wasn't decisive nor did it sway potential voters one way or the other. 

Joelle Gamble, Deputy National Field Director, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:

What was noticeably absent in last night’s debate was the mention of the role of everyday Americans in the economy, health care, and governance. Candidates talked about making strong investments in the future, but they did not elaborate on the role future Americans play in making their promises a reality. The bottom line for both campaigns was essentially this: “Vote for me and everything will be (or continue to be) better. Nothing bad will happen to people who are comfortable with their lives. Those who are unhappy with things will only see immediate benefits because of my policies.”

But this is a quintessential flaw in our current electoral political system. Citizens are simply voters and nothing more. We show up to the polls and mark our calendars for the next major election. For this reasons, political candidates have resigned themselves to only telling us what we want to hear before an election instead of what we need to hear to be invested in their policies afterwards. For either candidate to execute their plan well, a fully engaged citizenry is needed throughout their entire four years in office. Their success is dependent upon our continued participation on November 7th.

This participation requires a shared responsibility for the efficacy of our economic recovery. Some people will have to waste less gas or change their habits if we want to be more energy-efficient in the future. Others will have to adjust to a new system of health care if we want to be healthy as a country in the future and lower costs. The fact of the matter is, in order to keep moving in a positive direction, things will change for everyday Americans. The presidential candidates need to make it clear that we will have to be participants in that change if we want to be a better nation.

Jeanne Tilley, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, Greater Boston:
 
Millennials, if you went to bed after the debate feeling disheartened, that’s okay. You weren't alone. That debate was not for us. I love that Dodd-Frank got so much play, but President Obama and Governor Romney each missed the mark on talking to younger generations -- particularly on education.
 
President Obama mentioned twice that he wants funding to hire “100,000 math and science teachers,” and Governor Romney gave schools here in Massachusetts a mostly deserved tip of the hat for being among the best in the country. But while these statements came during a discussion of the role of the federal government, they failed to drill down on the role of education and thus the role of educated citizens in the American social framework.
 
I was disappointed that the candidates avoided discussing two key aspects of education policy last night. First of all, I wish that the DREAM Act had been raised. It’s plausible that this will come up as part of the foreign policy debate in the coming weeks, and I try to maintain hope that eventually we can have a comprehensive immigration reform debate. But the DREAM Act is not really about foreign policy and national security. It is about creating opportunity for young, undocumented Americans to enter the hallowed demographics of “small business owners” and “middle-income families” that everyone courts so strongly during election season. American demographics are changing, and in order to remain competitive on the global stage, we need to embrace the talented, committed young people who are already here and give them every opportunity to succeed.
 
Teachers’ unions were also roundly ignored -- perhaps not surprising given recent controversies, but still unfortunate. (In fact, unions as a whole were not mentioned once, and even the ever-popular auto industry got but one brief line.) Millennials are teaching in droves, typically through structured service programs, before graduate school or entering the broader job market. This teaching bent is mainly temporary, however; most programs last only two to three years. 
 
I think President Obama’s idea to hire 100,000 STEM teachers is a great one. But once schools have recruited and trained all these teachers, the trick is to keep them in the classroom working their magic with American school children and to make sure they feel supported by their parents, schools, and government outside the classroom. The unions may well have a powerful and positive role to play in striking this balance. The time to talk it over and find out is now. American education statistics no longer top the world. For candidates who talk about global competitiveness and making sure small businesses have someone to hire, leaving education out of this debate is a huge oversight.
 

Rahul Rheki, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care; Senior, Rice University: 

To me, the philosophical difference between the president and Governor Romney -- the visions they put forth for the role of government in America -- could not have been more stark. The barbs traded over healthcare were particularly emblematic of this dichotomy. Whereas Romney lambasted the ACA's "unelected board" for rationing care -- the IPAB is only advisory, mind you -- while distancing himself from his own signature health reform achievements in Massachusetts and proposed Medicare voucherization, President Obama embraced the provisions of the ACA that provided universal coverage, ended pre-existing conditions clauses, and ensured a thriving American social safety net for the coming decades. The competing choice, in my mind, was evident: the challenger's "every man for himself" versus the incumbent's "we're all in this together."

Tim Price, Deputy Editor, Next New Deal:
 

Given how much time the candidates spent talking past each other last night, it’s odd that some of their biggest flubs came in areas where they actually agreed, or at least claimed to. For Romney, it was health care reform – his most significant achievement as governor, and the one he’s barely been able to mention during this campaign for fear of conservative revolt. Though he was able to dodge most of the president’s criticisms throughout the debate by adopting new policy positions on the fly, his hair-splitting about whether Romneycare should be a model for national legislation was the least convincing part of his performance. Pressed to explain why he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act given that it’s essentially a scaled-up version of the plan he adopted in Massachusetts, Romney seemed to argue that Romneycare might be an appropriate model for every state, but not all of them at the same time. If states are the laboratories of democracy, he apparently wants Massachusetts to keep a tight hold on its patents.

As for President Obama, when he wasn’t wandering through a fog of obscure policy details, he was conceding far too much ground to conservatives. One of the most eyebrow-raising moments of the night was when Obama began the discussion of entitlements by declaring that he and Romney share a similar position on Social Security. Do they really? If so, progressives have a lot more to worry about than we thought, since Romney’s running mate is the author of a plan that would privatize it. Then there was the question about the need to cut deficits, where instead of rejecting the premise and making the case that we need a bigger deficit to create jobs, Obama defended his budget plans as Bowles-Simpson with a cherry on top. Instead of articulating a bold progressive vision for the economy and a strong defense of the social safety net, he often sounded like a moderate running in a Republican primary.

Rajiv Narayan, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline, California:

We bring as much of our own perception to the debates as the presidential candidates add with their responses and rebuttals. Having recently landed my first job out of college, I understand the importance of building a labor force with diverse skills and an economy rich with opportunities. But what I understand to be even more important is the community of support that got me from my diploma to my first paycheck. That means teachers. Tonight I saw one candidate who praised teachers, but was unwilling to keep intact those programs supporting classrooms for political reasons. Likewise, I was disappointed by the political “strategery” at work on health care reform. When we reach a point where Governor Romney is threatening to dismantle the (unspecified, seemingly unpopular) parts of a health program cloned from his health program, in order to reinstate from the states, where "democracy's experiments take place," the most successful version of that program, I'm afraid we've become audience to Dadaist political theater.

Hannah Locke, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment; Senior, Goucher College:

C-SPAN, Fox News, Twitter, Facebook---tax policy, Big Bird, educational vouchers, zingers. The Internet was alive with puns, expressions of disgust, tired and overused commentary, and the usual spin. Is this what the battle for the soul of our country looks like? Boiled down to cherry-picked numbers, to stuttering sentences of little substance, to talking over the moderator? What does our Millennial generation garner from such a discussion? We laugh and point and tweet and snark, but I’ve started to wonder whether that level of  “political engagement” is worth bragging about.

Meanwhile in Venezuela, the people are taking to the streets, risking their own lives to demand a fair and transparent democracy. The challenger, Henrique Capriles, heads a coalition of opposition groups who contest not only the continuation of Chavez’s isolating economic practices, but the proliferation of violence and fear in Venezuela. What started as state-sanctioned Robin Hood behavior quickly bred into a festering, sprawling disease of chaotic violence where anyone—poor, rich, liberal, conservative—runs the risk of getting in trouble with the street gangs or the military.

So next time we bemoan our elections, let’s take a step back and put things into perspective. We aren’t on a black list for going to an opposition leader’s website. We aren’t risking a bullet in the head every time we step out to a rally, stump speech or fundraiser. We aren’t risking our families’ future on the hope that our country can be something better than one of the most violent nations on this planet.

We go to the polls, and we vote. Sometimes, we should take a moment to recognize how much we’ve got, just as much as we recognize what we don’t have yet.

Kyle Shepherd, Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline:

My favorite passage of the night came from the candidates' back and forth on federal regulation of the economy. "You couldn't have people opening up banks in their garage and making loans," Romney said. "Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can become excessive."

I love imagining people loaning money out of their garage. For all the talk of the American people's ingenuity, it seems like someone on the right must think this is a good idea. But this statement also points to the key differences between the two candidates on regulation, albeit in broad strokes. And as a progressive, this is a big deal to me, because Romney wants to eliminate important financial protections that don't have enough teeth to begin with.

Dodd-Frank, like much government oversight of the economy, can be easy to criticize. Detractors say it’s unwieldy, opaque, and brings unintended consequences. It's also not immediately apparent how it has solved the problem of banks being "too big to fail." Romney played on this by saying he wants to repeal and replace it with more intelligent regulation that will create jobs. This was a somewhat new proposal from him, as he has previously stated he just wants to repeal it, but it's also important to note he remains characteristically vague on the subject, making deeper analysis of his policies difficult. It's safe to say, however, that it would probably involve decreases in regulation on derivatives and relaxing the restrictions that have been imposed on the large, systematically important firms. This would debatably result in more jobs, but would certainly result in more banking profits.

Obama didn't do much to advance any new policy initiatives. He instead defended Dodd-Frank, mentioning the "reckless behavior" of Wall Street and touting the capital requirements and bank "living wills" imposed by the legislation he supported. There are some good things in Dodd-Frank, and it's much needed legislation that will hopefully strengthen over time as regulators adapt and enforce its stipulations.

The discussion of the role of government in regulating financial institutions is a vital one. These are important issues that get to the heart of inequality, corporate welfare, and consumer protection in our country. We need people to be able to borrow money with confidence they are not being taken advantage of, and the banks need to understand their risk is real and can't be passed over to someone else along the financial daisy chain. The debate on this issue needs to more fully acknowledge the risks inherent in the economy, who should assume responsibility for those risks, and what policies can make that happen.

Unfortunately, the debate as framed last night presented only two options. Either Dodd-Frank, a bill mercilessly attacked by lobbyists, only supported by key financial interests in order to prevent a stronger bill from passing, and only partially enforced -- or weaker regulations and restrictions as offered up by Romney.

Lydia Austin, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Economic Development; Senior, University of Michigan:

It seems that the hype surrounding this debate -- the numerous news articles and coverage dedicated to it -- was greater than the actual event. Both candidates held their own, both threw out a lot of facts related to tax policy and Medicare, and both were on the defensive for some amount of time. Romney had the most at stake coming into tonight: he desperately needed to rebrand himself as someone who understands the middle class and is responsive to Americans' frustrations. I think he effectively did that. Not an outstanding performance by either candidate, but in terms of who shifted the public discourse, it was definitely Romney (though now the Internet is blowing up with Big Bird photos).

Ken Lefebvre, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member; Senior, University of Massachusetts:

Last night we witnessed two opposing narratives clash, unmitigated in their stances, and mostly unmoderated in their discourse. We saw a president tired from four years of entrenchment in the daily minutiae of national politics, and we saw an ever-eager opponent going into this fight with the gloves off. It could be said that Mitt Romney won this debate through his writers and an ability to look presidential. At the same time, Obama did what he had to to maintain his steady ground and consistent policies. Little was accomplished in this debate, and both candidates made the same talking points together that they had for months before. No new details were offered. You really could take segments of their commercials and edit them as if they were the debate. Emotional responses may tip the polls toward Romney for the time, but voters learned little from either candidate in this display.

Jean-Ann Kubler, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member; Senior, Skidmore College:

After sifting through the talking points and empty rhetoric of last night’s debate (we get it, 5 trillion is a big number), the American public is left with very little substance on which to compare the incumbent Obama and challenger Romney. The two candidates made bold attempts, particularly during the economic segment of the debate, to appear as if they were presenting facts and specifics about tax plans, the deficit, and creating jobs. But in the end, what did viewers learn other than that Romney and Obama have starkly different opinions on how theoretical math works? Can Obama decrease the deficit by spending more and taxing more? Romney said no, but demonstrated no evidence other than his lack of faith. Can Romney spend $2 trillion extra on defense without raising taxes on the middle class to pay for it? Obama said no, and the math seems to back him up, but he was unable to present his argument in a manner that would be digestible by a common viewer. What the common viewer could easily discern, however, was that two presidential candidates with four Ivy League degrees between them, who both claim that the key to their governing style is bipartisan leadership, were unable to put aside polarizing, partisan rhetoric long enough to provide the American people enough information to make an educated decision about the future of our country.

Michelle Tham, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member; Sophomore, American University:

The presidential debate had a lot more number-crunching than I expected. However, this didn't mean that all the numbers were correct. One ironic rhetorical point Romney has been using throughout his campaign (and continued at the debate) was "disregard the fact-checker and studies." Yet Romney's tax plan is defended by the Heritage Foundation. Furthermore, Romney mentioned clean coal. Since 2009, clean coal has already been identified as more of a misleading political frame than actual clean energy. Currently, there's no economical way to capture and eliminate carbon emissions from coal itself -- dirty or clean. On the same note, as Romney praises the idea of clean coal, he also misunderstands the collapse of the solar company Solyndra. There is no Solyndra scandal. Solyndra was simply a startup solar-power equipment manufacturer that was funded under the Bush administration. Solyndra fell because of the lack of demand and overseas competition. It has nothing to do with Obama's initiative for higher clean energy funds. Finally, the idea of investing in Solyndra itself adheres to Romney's idea of economic growth. 

Mawish Raza, Roosevelt | Institute Campus Network member:

The start of the presidential debates last night had stirred up much more excitement than the debate itself was able to offer. Governor Romney presented an aggressive side that clamored over President Obama’s passiveness, but aside from the candidates' demeanor, the debates didn’t touch on many key issues, including women’s rights or immigration reform. Even during the dialogue on education and health care, neither candidate even mentioned the right for a woman to make her own decisions with her body or education being a right for all individuals. 

Governor Romney repeated his commitment to education several times, along with his plan to allow parents to choose where to send their children. That’s great, but what about kids coming from broken families and being raised in poverty? What about human trafficking victims who are sold to the streets until disposed of? What about the failing education systems in inner cities? Because commitment to the education system doesn’t provide kids in these communities with instantaneous financial support, education often isn’t an answer for them. In these environments, the only plausible option for them may be to turn to drugs or crime. And when we focus on the family, where the emphasis on education will be placed on the parent’s engagement with their child, we are neglecting entire populations of youth around the country. This creates a cyclic culture of poverty for young people.

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