A Policy Agenda for Stronger, Fairer, and More Sustainable Growth

Jul 13, 2015Roosevelt Institute

The Roosevelt Institute today released the following statement in response to Hillary Clinton’s economic speech at the New School:

The Roosevelt Institute today released the following statement in response to Hillary Clinton’s economic speech at the New School:

Today, Hillary Clinton began outlining a comprehensive framework for tackling America’s problems of slow economic growth, low investment, and stagnant wages. Secretary Clinton’s speech reinforced an argument made by the Roosevelt Institute and supported by the economic evidence: inequality is a choice determined by the rules that structure how our economy works—the laws, regulations, and institutions that shape market behaviors and outcomes. Changes we have made to the economic rules over the past 35 years have left the U.S. with a weaker economy, higher inequality, and greater concentration of economic power. This cannot stand if the U.S. economy is to be put on track for long-term prosperity.

It is encouraging to hear Secretary Clinton focus so clearly on this central cause of America’s economic problems as she articulates a three-pronged approach to putting the U.S. economy back on track: making economic growth stronger, fairer, and oriented toward the long term. Delivering on the sweeping vision offered today will require a detailed policy agenda that addresses a number of issues ranging from family-friendly work policies to financial reform. Below, we’ve offered an outline of specific policies that we urge all presidential candidates to consider as they build their platforms.

But beyond any specific policies, an effective agenda must take a comprehensive approach to reforming the economy—an approach built on the evidence that our economy works best when it is working for everyone, not on the faith that prosperity will trickle down from a wealthy few at the very top. We cannot achieve strong, sustainable growth so long as the majority of economic gains remain concentrated in so few hands. To put it simply, stronger growth, fairer growth, and more sustainable growth are interconnected. We can’t have one without the others.

As we discussed in detail in our Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy report, there is a long list of policies that America can choose to implement in order to promote stronger, fairer, and more sustainable growth. We have summarized those policies below.

Making growth stronger

This means breaking down barriers to work: creating good jobs, sustaining good jobs, and ensuring that more Americans can obtain good jobs.

1)     Expand access to labor markets and opportunities for advancement

  • Enact paid sick and family leave so that more people can have the security to work while still caring for their children and family members.
  • Subsidize child care to benefit children and improve women's workforce participation and economic mobility.
  • Open Medicare to all to make health care more affordable for families and employers.
  • Expand public transportation to promote equal access to jobs and opportunities.
  • Reform the criminal justice system to reduce incarceration rates and penalize employers for discriminating against people with an incarceration history.
  • Enact comprehensive Immigration reform, recognizing immigrant families for their contributions to America’s economic success.
  • Protect women's access to reproductive health services so all individuals can access comprehensive, affordable, and quality care.

2)     Make public investments needed for private sector growth

  • Invest in large-scale infrastructure renovation with a 10-year campaign to make the U.S. a world leader in infrastructure manufacturing, jobs, and innovation that raises efficiency and cuts the cost of doing business in the U.S.
  • Enact universal early childhood education and a universal child benefit, ensuring that every child in America has access to pre-school starting at age 3 and that parents have the resources to invest in their children’s futures.
  • Make higher education accessible and affordable by reforming tuition financing, restoring consumer protections to student loans, and adopting universal income-based repayment.

3)     Make full employment the goal

  • Appoint members to the Federal Reserve who prioritize the Fed’s full employment mandate.
  • Restore balance to trade agreements to ensure that U.S. businesses and workers can compete with the world on a level playing field.

Making growth fairer

This means rewarding work fairly and crafting a tax code and compensation system that incentivizes investment and innovation in the real economy. 

1)    Empower workers

  • Close the pay equity gap to ensure equal pay for equal work.
  • Raise the national minimum wage and expand enforcement to ensure that work pays a living wage.
  • Strengthen the right to collective bargaining by easing legal barriers to unionization, requiring mandatory arbitration for first contracts, imposing stricter penalties on illegal anti-union activities, and amending laws to reflect the changing workplace in America.
  • Leverage government to set workplace standards by attaching strong pro-worker stipulations for private government contractors.

2)  Make taxes more progressive

  • Ensure top earners pay their fair share by raising top marginal income tax rates, replacing tax expenditures with capped credits, and taxing capital gains at least as much as labor income, with a much higher tax rate on short-term capital gains.
  • Enact revenue-positive corporate tax reform that ends the indefinite overseas deferral of corporate profits  in foreign tax havens, eliminates the incentive for offshoring by taxing corporations as unified entities on the basis of their global income, establishes a global minimum tax, and reduces corporate welfare within the tax code.

Focusing growth on the long term

This means ensuring that our financial system focuses on creating long-term value and minimizes the risks of a major financial crash.

1)     Fix the financial sector

  • Eliminate hidden subsidies to big banks that create too much risk and then hold taxpayers hostage to the need for bailouts.
  • Appoint officials to key federal agencies with a track record of enforcing regulations rather than lobbying for the industry.
  • Level the playing field between large financial institutions and community banks with increased leverage requirements and leverage surcharge.
  • Address the “shadow banking system” that eludes existing rules and regulations designed to make our economic system safe, stable, and accountable.
  • Eliminate the loopholes promoting offshore banking centers and tax havens.
  • Increase transparency throughout the financial sector so we can finally understand the risks and conflicts of interest that tip the scale of fairness and threaten to destabilize the economy.

2)    Focus corporate executives on long-term investment

  • Eliminate the CEO performance pay loophole, i.e. Section 162(m), that ties incentives to short-term stock prices rather than long-term performance; increase disclosure requirements on executive compensation and stock options; and implement the Dodd-Frank rule requiring disclosure of the CEO–median worker pay ratio.
  • Enact tax reform to combat short-termism for shareholders, first by raising tax rates on capital gains to the same level as the rates on labor income and then by raising the rate on short-term capital gains and non-productive long-term capital gains (land speculation) even higher.

3)     Rewrite the rules of trade to put all U.S. workers and businesses on a level playing field

  • Restrain the scope of the investor–state dispute settlement procedures for future agreements (and revise the myriad prior agreements) and build in safeguards so that public interest regulations cannot be undermined by private international courts.
  • Rebalance intellectual property protections to encourage innovation and lower consumer prices.
  • Make U.S. market access benefits contingent on firm audits of compliance with labor and environmental standards—a social standards export license—to give real meaning to a high-standard global economy.

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Hillary Clinton's Rooseveltian Challenge: Carrying Forward the Four Freedoms

Jun 19, 2015Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s important that Hillary Clinton chose a place that honors my grandfather to officially launch her campaign and unveil her vision for our nation. In doing so, she sought to claim the Rooseveltian style of leadership and to position herself as the person who will carry forward the Roosevelt legacy of action, insight and advancement.

Now that the crowds have gone home, can she live up to the challenge she is setting for herself?

It’s important that Hillary Clinton chose a place that honors my grandfather to officially launch her campaign and unveil her vision for our nation. In doing so, she sought to claim the Rooseveltian style of leadership and to position herself as the person who will carry forward the Roosevelt legacy of action, insight and advancement.

Now that the crowds have gone home, can she live up to the challenge she is setting for herself?

My grandparents shaped our nation and the world in ways that were deeper and further reaching than almost any other figures of the 20th century. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt took America from the brink of total economic collapse and laid the groundwork for the greatest stretch of prosperity we’ve ever experienced.

They fought for democracy and against horrific regimes the likes of which the world may never have recovered from and used that moment to form a strong global alliance that is still in place today. They did all of this through the New Deal—by rewriting the rules of our capitalist system so that it works for everybody, and by building the postwar international system linking our economic and security interests as one global family.

They put rules in place to make capitalism work for the many as opposed to a few at the top—including rules for our financial system to protect consumers and control risk. The New Deal invested in America’s future through roads, bridges, modern electric systems, schools, and other essentials of a modern society. The Roosevelt administration expanded protections and rights for workers and families and gave them a seat at the bargaining table and ensured their security after retirement. They created a path to the middle class for millions of Americans.

But the Roosevelt record and so many of the strides we made through the New Deal have been undermined over the past 35 years as so many of those rules, investments, and protections have been rolled back. As a result, the American middle class lifestyle is almost as far out of reach today for most Americans as it was when my grandfather took office, and the future looks dim.

My grandparents took office four years after the Great Depression hit; our next president will be sworn in less than a decade after the Great Recession hit. The gap between those at the top and the rest of us is at a point last seen before the New Deal. Workers and America’s families face an entrenched wealthy class seeking to control who benefits from our economy and our political process. And there is growing unrest in the world as radical militants seek to undermine and destroy the very concept of democracy by taking advantage of our dysfunction.

Just as they were 83 years ago, the American people are desperately hungry for action and leadership to fix the imbalances in our economy and society.

A recent CBS/New York Times poll showed that the majority of Americans—rich and poor, men and women, Republicans and Democrats—agree that income, opportunity, and influence are unfairly concentrated at the top and that these disparities are growing. Further, Americans support government action to address this inequality and rewrite the rules of our economy.

For all my grandparents accomplished, so much of their work is still left unfinished. The beautiful park from which Secretary Clinton spoke celebrates the fundamental Four Freedoms my grandfather laid out in his 1941 speech as essential to democracy and to all of humanity: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Yet for many in our own nation and across the world, those essential freedoms have yet to be fully realized. Another unfinished act proposed by my grandfather was a second bill of rights guaranteeing every American access to the central pillars of economic security—employment and a living wage, decent housing and medical care, public education, adequate food and clothing, and healthy leisure. The work of ensuring that the good ideas of the New Deal are equally available to women and to communities of color also remains incomplete.

Now is truly the time to hand the baton to the next great leader committed to completing this work.

If Hillary Clinton wants to follow in the footsteps of Franklin and Eleanor, then she must not just reflect on their legacy but carry forward their energetic leadership and relentless pursuit of bold solutions.

Clinton must summon the courage to once again fundamentally rewrite the rules of our economy, restore balance, challenge entrenched power, and seek a New Deal for the 21st century.

The American people will follow that kind of leadership.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt is Chair of the Roosevelt Institute's Board and President and CEO of Goodwill NNE.

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The Politics of Responsibility – Not Envy

Feb 11, 2015Richard Kirsch

Americans are looking for politicians who ask the wealthy to take responsibility for their fair share of our society.

According to former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers – who is emerging as a key economic advisor to Hillary Clinton – the big political challenge in addressing economic inequality is not to embrace “a politics of envy.”

No, Mr. Summers – it’s not the politics of envy. It’s the politics of responsibility.

Americans are looking for politicians who ask the wealthy to take responsibility for their fair share of our society.

According to former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers – who is emerging as a key economic advisor to Hillary Clinton – the big political challenge in addressing economic inequality is not to embrace “a politics of envy.”

No, Mr. Summers – it’s not the politics of envy. It’s the politics of responsibility.

Summers was quoted in The New York Times about “what has emerged as a central question of her [Hillary Clinton’s] early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.”

The rich may imagine that blaming them for the struggles of the rest of us is driven by envy, but that’s their own conceit to make them feel good. Americans don’t resent the rich. While we might fantasize about winning the lottery, we are not consumed by jealousy. What most Americans understand is that they are struggling financially because the wealthy have rigged the economic and political system to benefit them at the expense of the rest of us. That’s not envy: it’s reality.

Summer’s formulation is meant to give intellectual cover to the real problem that Democrats like Clinton face: taking on those who finance their political campaigns. As the Times puts it: “And she [Clinton] must convince a middle class that feels frustrated and left behind that she understands its struggles, even as she relies heavily on the financial industry and corporate interests to fund her candidacy.”

There is a way to connect with people without “overly vilifying the wealthy.” The politics I would recommend to Clinton and other Democrats is that of responsibility.

There are two senses in which we can have a conversation about responsibility. The first is in explaining who is responsible for the financial squeeze on American working and middle class families. The second sense is to describe the kind of responsible behaviors that we can insist those who are responsible undertake to rebuild opportunity and security. The two are related, as one needs to be clear on who is responsible in order to identify how to fix the problem.

For example, wages are stagnant because corporations engaged in concerted strategies to limit the proportion of profits shared with workers, including: busting unions, rather than negotiating with them; shipping jobs overseas rather than paying higher wages to American workers; and aggressively using campaign contributions and lobbyists to undermine labor standards (minimum wage; overtime protection; etc) and labor laws. Corporations spent their huge profits on stock buybacks and CEO pay, rather than better compensation for workers.

Then there’s Wall Street’s culpability for using its political clout to shred financial regulations and oversight while engaging in the orgy of financial speculation and predatory lending that triggered the Great Recession.

Or tax policy, where corporations pushed to reduce their proportion of taxes paid to the federal government and by the wealthy so that they now pay a lower share of taxes than the middle-class. The result:  working and middle class families pay higher taxes and more for public services. A glaring example is the enormous rise in the cost of public higher education, as funding for public colleges and universities has been slashed.

The economic story about who is responsible requires acknowledging the democratic story. One thing that Americans on the left and right agree on is that the wealthy and corporate lobbyists have hijacked our democracy. That’s not cynical – it’s true. And it is a major reason why so many have given up on government working for them, or solving the problems they face.

None of this is “over-vilifying the wealthy.” It is describing the reality that Americans understand. As we saw in the election this past fall, Democrats who fail to identify those responsible will lose, as base Democrats stay home and white working-class voters turn to Republicans who assign blame to the government and the poor.

Identifying those who are responsible, as I’ve done above, drives the power of solutions to address those problems. For example, corporate suppression of wages is fixed by: revitalizing labor law and enforcement; raising labor standards like minimum wage and earned sick days; creating new workplace protections, like paid family leave; changing the rules on stock buy-backs; and limiting CEO compensation.

Addressing the adverse impact of Wall Street’s drive for speculative profits calls for taxing speculative trading, breaking up the big banks, stopping predatory lending, and providing new, publicly backed mechanisms for financing the residential and community lending that banks have abdicated.

Revenue raised from reversing tax breaks for corporations and the very wealthy can be used to invest in services families need like affordable child care and free community college, proposals in President Obama’s new budget.

Instead of vilifying the wealthy, the politics of responsibility can lift up corporate leaders and wealthy Americans who are examples of responsible behavior. President Obama has done this occasionally, for example, lauding Costco for its high pay and good benefits for big box stores. Last week, Aetna announced it was going to raise wages and benefits for its lowest-wage workers. Warren Buffett has a “rule” bearing his name, for proposing that the wealthy shouldn’t pay lower shares of taxes than their secretaries. Buffett’s example is particularly important because he’s calling for government action, not just setting an example through his own behavior.

The handful of corporate leaders who are acting responsibly are also acting in their own long-term self-interest. They understand that their businesses do better with workers who get paid decently. They realize they need an educated workforce. They may even comprehend that if workers get paid more, they’ll have more to spend, driving the economy forward.

The real emotional challenge in addressing inequality is not envy by the 99 percent for the 1 percent. It’s the very thin skins of the super-rich. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, born one of the 1 percent, understood this. FDR framed the question of wealth and responsibility brilliantly when he said:

Government can deal and should deal with blindly selfish men. But that is a comparatively small part – the easier part of our problem. The larger, more important and more difficult part of our problem is to deal with men who are not selfish and who are good citizens, but who cannot see the social and economic consequences of their actions in a modern economically interdependent community. They fail to grasp the significance of some of our most vital social and economic problems because they see them only in the light of their own personal experience and not in perspective with the experience of other men and other industries. They, therefore, fail to see these problems for the nation as a whole.

There were some prominent capitalists who supported New Deal programs, including banking reforms. But of the rest, FDR famously said, “I welcome their hatred.”

At the end of the day if Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat is going to champion the policies essential to rebuilding the middle-class and creating a new era of broad, sustainable prosperity, she will have to join FDR in applauding those businesses who worked for the benefit of all and welcoming the hatred of those who resist the fundamental changes needed to build an America that works for all of us.

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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Building a Better Community: MacArthur-Winning Campus Network Looks to the Future

Feb 10, 2015Joelle Gamble

The Campus Network's incredible community is what earned a MacArthur Award, and that's what we'll continue to invest in.

The Campus Network's incredible community is what earned a MacArthur Award, and that's what we'll continue to invest in.

Last Thursday, our social media accounts exploded with the news that the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network had received the 2015 Award for Creative and Effective Institutions from the MacArthur Foundation. The flurry of tweets, revelry, and community from students in Conway, Arkansas, from alumni working in the White House and city governments, and from supporters at foundations and organizations all over this country is demonstrative of what makes the Campus Network such a unique organization: our people.

At our core, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network seeks to defy the expectations of young people in policy and politics. We are not apathetic. We are adaptive. We are not selfish. We are community-driven. We care about our people, their ideas, and their ability to be taken seriously. We believe there is power in a good idea connected to the right institutions, backed by a passionate community of civic actors.

With the right resources, the right model, and passion, we are capable of solving the complex problems plaguing our country today.

We’ve already seen the Campus Network’s impact on communities around the country:

  • Students designed, advocated for, and passed a Clean Air Act resolution in Ithaca, NY to cut greenhouse gas pollution.
  • They passed a Los Angeles Community College District amendment to mandate that community colleges accept food stamps on campuses, increasing access to healthy food for hundreds of students living below the poverty line.
  • They even collaborated with the director of emergency management in New Haven, CT and Alderman Salvatore E. DeCola to institute a Community Rating System that allowed residents in vulnerable neighborhoods to receive a discount on flood insurance premiums.

We’ve got a lot to be proud of. Our people have done phenomenal things. The way forward is to ramp up our investment in their success. Here’s what’s next:

Political engagement for our generation must be as creative and adaptive as we are.

The Campus Network is building a new standard for how civic and political engagement organizations connect with young people. Our generation’s engagement in politics must be as fluid, intuitive, and adaptive as the public sector’s. That is not to say that efficiency rules all but, instead, that the processes by which we take civic action must keep up with the creative, fast-paced, and customizable tendencies of young people. That’s why we are a networked organization. Now, we are updating our tools to match.

Our training and support system will utilize advances in technology, innovations in deliberative processes and design thinking, and a decentralized model. Meanwhile, our online training curriculum will be responsive to the diverse needs of our network of student chapters, molding to their campus and community needs while still tapping into the power we have as a collective.

Partnering toward greater collective impact

We believe that organizations cannot be everything to everyone. The sum of many different groups working well together creates the potential for broader impact. The most strategic partnerships we can build keep in mind our shared goals for building a more inclusive, equitable society, not just our own organizational goals.

With that, the Campus Network has the potential to partner to help amplify impact in the civic and political engagement space. We see ourselves as contributors to a wave of change, and we make the wave bigger. We do not try to surf a wave built by others. Whether it’s collaborating on child poverty policies with local doctors in Salem, North Carolina or contributing to an economic opportunity policy agenda with a Baltimore-based advocacy group, partnering for greater impact will be a centerpiece for how we connect our student chapters to the broader world.

We are investing in our alumni as they continue to pursue and lead policy change in their professional and civic lives. And we’re tapping into this powerful network of current students and alumni all across the country to help one another. With Roosevelters working in statehouses, city halls, and the upper echelons of the federal government, the Campus Network is multiplying its potential to change the role of young people in the policy process.

Policy + People = Power

Student policy thinkers have also been the doers in our network – passing city council resolutions, starting revolving loan funds, and lobbying in the halls of Congress. Now that our network is larger than ever before, we are systematizing our capacity to take policy action. Each year, our members produce hundreds of policy ideas, codified in memos and publications. By connecting these student ideas, through the students themselves, to decision makers and power-players, we are moving toward a greater amplification of the impact our chapters generate.

Through our growing organizational capacity, we are designing a robust support system for student projects throughout our network. In 2015, we will see even more student ideas in the halls of their state capitols and city halls and college President’s offices through an initiative called Policy By and For, launching on February 18. By directing intentional financial, communication, and strategic campaigning resources toward projects in the network, more young people will be situated to connect with decision-makers, armed with their own ideas. We are building toward better governance that is not just for our generation but shaped by our generation.

Fundamentally, we are a values-driven organization that is only as strong as the brilliant minds that run our chapters, research and produce policy ideas, start projects, and help strengthen our community of wonks. Through strategic investments in our chapters, tools, and partnerships, the Campus Network will continue to be a powerful leader for policy change for the next 10 years and beyond.

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

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Roosevelt Reacts: What Else Did We Need From the 2015 State of the Union?

Jan 23, 2015

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network members and alumni weigh in on President Obama's sixth State of the Union address.

Brett Dunn, University of Alabama '17:

In the face of strong Republican opposition, President Obama made his stance on many controversial topics quite clear. He outlined his views on topics such as the minimum wage, equal pay for women, LGBTQ+ rights, tax reform and more. These bold and somewhat ambitious goals for change in 2015 will require bipartisan compromise in Congress. It is likely, however, that there will be little correlation between President Obama’s bold vision for the future of the United States and Congress’ actions in the final two years of his presidency. No matter how wonderful or ambitious President Obama’s plans are for the country, the likelihood of any these issues being independently addressed by a Republican controlled Congress is very slim. Yet the president’s plans do not fall on deaf ears. President Obama’s speech gives Democrats in Congress and, more importantly, the American public, ammunition against the Republican’s inevitable inaction, which could potentially help set the stage for the 2016 election.

Chisolm Allenlundy, University of Alabama '16:

It was difficult to miss the amount of politics that happened on Tuesday at President Obama’s next-to-last State of the Union address. What might have been easy to miss, however, was the meaning of it all.

President Obama knows that his days of passing game-changing progressive legislation are over. This is a common position for 4th-quarter presidents to find themselves in, and Obama did exactly what such presidents do when they can no longer effectively push for policy change: they push for culture change.

But most Americans don’t watch the political process so much as they hear about it from media sources, which put their own spin on material. According to consumer watch company Nielson, 31.7 million people tuned in for the SOTU, and even that figure is at a 15-year low. While the president has attempted to set the direction for progressive politics for the next year, policy change will be a struggle, and he needs to reach many more Americans to steer the course on our political culture. 

Tarsi Dunlop, Middlebury College '09:

Middle class economics played a key role in the President’s 2015 State of the Union. He explained that middle class economics is about the policies needed for average American families to get ahead. These policies aren’t handouts, but they make daily life better, easier, more fulfilling. For example, what if students could graduate from K-12 with good grades and know they had the option of going to community college without the staggering cost of debt? Granted, there are certain investments that must be made to make sure that community colleges are, as an institution, prepared for the role the President wants them to serve for our nation’s youth.

The President also touched on other elements of middle class economics: key policy proposals that will help young people, new families, and the elderly. He emphasized affordable day care (right now monthly costs can run higher than a mortgage payment), as well as paid family leave and sick leave. Families shouldn’t have to choose between time with new babies and paid work, nor between working and staying home with a sick child. We need a vision and a budget to help the middle class thrive and it was great to hear concrete proposals in the President’s speech.

Hayley Brundige, University of Tennessee, Knoxville '17:

Obama's State of the Union Address illustrated just how far we still have to go in the fight for gender equality. I was ecstatic when Obama asserted that the right to quality childcare and paid maternity and sick leave are not just “women's issues” — as they are often brushed aside as — but a “national economic priority.” But in the back of my mind, I was dismayed that this concept that is so obviously a human right is still so far from being obvious to our elected officials. 

Noticeably missing from the speech was any mention of preventing sexual assault, especially on college campuses. This was particularly surprising seeing as the administration has made this issue a point of focus recently, creating a White House task force on sexual assault and investigating colleges for Title IX violations. Obama even had a readily supplied anecdote, as campus activist and sexual assault survivor Emma Sulkowicz was literally in the audience. As a college student, I applaud Obama's efforts to make community college more accessible, but it's disheartening for him to not address the importance of keeping our campuses safe. No president on record has discussed sexual assault in a State of the Union address.

Zachary Agush, Wheaton College '12:

Over the years, President Obama has always integrated personal stories into his annual State of the Union addresses to paint a visual about the troubles individuals may be facing or to explain how a certain effort can help spark further growth and development for others. I have always considered that a major strength. This year’s speech focused in particular on young families. The President knows that the new generation is quickly becoming the majority of the nation's population and that the lingering inequalities and economic hardships will definitely make it increasingly difficult for them to have the quality of life they desire. This generation is also going to struggle to maintain Social Security and Medicare for those entering these safety net programs in the coming decade. I think those stories in particular hit some members of Congress, even those of the new Republican majority, that something needs to be done to at least give the next generation a chance at success. I am cautiously optimistic that something may happen - but it will only happen if this Congress can actually stop and think about how their gridlock is directly affecting the next generation. Maybe then, there can be progress.

Sarah Hilton, Wheaton College '16:

President Obama made huge strides for education policy on Tuesday night; even raising the issue of rising college tuition is a positive step forward. However, the President hardly mentioned the K-12 system. He praised rising graduation rates and higher test scores then ever before, but ignored the staggering inequality and lack of student performance when compared internationally. Obama’s two-year community college plan, while economically beneficial for the middle class, shows that our base expectations for education continue to require more time and expense.

The focus instead should be on improving the K-12 system we already have by creating more diverse programs that train students for a variety careers from academic to vocational. Today, about half of students begin community college in remedial classes. We should be making our high schools more effective at reaching students. Vocational training for profitable and interesting jobs can be done in high school, and academic programs should be strengthen to reduce the need for remedial classes in community colleges. Strengthening the underlying K-12 system and increasing vocational training would have an earlier impact on our students’ lives.

Jas Johl, University of California, Berkeley '08:

The main rhetorical touch point for the state of the union was 'middle class economics.' Throughout the address, Obama repeatedly turned to that concept, presenting policy ideas designed to bolster it.  Of paramount importance to the ongoing success of middle class, he argued, would be to make the first two years of community college free for all. This proposal does address some of the symptoms of growing economic inequality, namely rising student debt. Nonetheless, it overlooks the underlying, systemic issues at the core of the problem: the broken state of our current education system. 

As The Institute for College Access & Success and the Brookings Institute have both argued, the majority of those attending community college are already getting their tuition covered through Pell Grants and other means of financial support. I’d argue the more pressing issue is the fact that many of the students who enroll in community colleges are ill-prepared for 4-year universities, and spend the first two years of college taking remedial college (read: high school) courses that they didn't do well in or even pass the first time. Free college doesn’t help a student who isn’t ready for it.

Obama makes the very valid point that making those colleges free would assuage the financial burden of a large number of young adults, and likely precipitate a better-prepared workforce. But a glaring absence in the president's speech was acknowledgement of the fundamental cracks in our institutions, namely, our already free K-12 educational system. Real middle class economics necessitate not just free education, but better education for all.

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Obama’s Middle Class Economics Has to be About Fairness and Prosperity

Jan 22, 2015Richard Kirsch

The more-fair "middle-class economics" described in the State of the Union are also the right policies to help the economy grow.

The more-fair "middle-class economics" described in the State of the Union are also the right policies to help the economy grow.

In coining the new term “middle-class economics” and linking it to raising wages and taxing the rich and Wall Street to put money in the pockets of working families, President Obama used his State of the Union address to ask the public that most potent of political questions: “Which side are you on?” And as Republicans say no to improving wages and making college more affordable in order to defend the super-rich, Americans will get a clear answer. That’s a sure win for Democrats.

But the President’s explanation of middle class economics downplayed an important part of the story: it’s not just about fairness, it’s about how we create prosperity.

With the term “middle class economics,” the President is creating a contrast between economic programs aimed at boosting the middle-class and the Republican agenda of shrinking government and lowering taxes for corporations. But Obama’s use of the term missed an opportunity to drive home to the American public that middle class economics is not just about fairness, but also about moving the economy forward.

Obama defined middle class economics as “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” That is one of the President’s favorite phrases. But for all its appeal, it does not explain how middle-class economics drives economic progress and increases wealth. He fails to replace the Republican story that cutting government, taxes, and regulation are the keys to economic growth.

The President actually included such an explanation of what drives the economy in his 2013 State of the Union address, when he said: “It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class."

Democrats need to firmly claim both the grounds of fairness and prosperity. As I recently wrote, “The policies that do the most to bolster fairness are in fact the most powerful policies to move the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity.”

This is an easy case to make, as it’s true for most of the policies in the President’s middle class economic agenda.

To take just one example, raising the minimum wage is not just about basic fairness for low-wage workers. Raising wages is about creating economy-boosting jobs instead of economy-busting jobs. When wages are raised, workers have more money to spend, essential when 70 percent of the economy is made up of consumer spending.

The President’s tax proposals are also about more than just the unfairness of a tax code riddled, as he said, “with giveaways the superrich don't need, denying a break to middle class families who do.” His proposed taxes on risky bank speculation move that money to invest in vital infrastructure. When he proposes raising taxes on the rich, who already have more money than they can spend, and using those funds to make community colleges more affordable, he’s putting that money into the economy and investing in people’s skills to contribute to economic progress.

Fairness is a very powerful American value. That’s why the most successful Democratic candidates in 2014 made it clear that they were on the side of working families against Wall Street.

But the reason that fairness is so powerful is because of the contrast between the few with vast wealth and what Americans most want, to be able to care for and support their families. We value prosperity and security. That is why it is essential that Democrats can tell a clear story about how we move the economy forward. Middle-class economics is about more than fairness – it’s about how working families and the middle class drive the economy. 

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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Daily Digest - January 14: Advice From Mario Cuomo for Today's Democrats

Jan 14, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Mario Cuomo, the Speech and the Challenge to Democrats Today (In These Times)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Mario Cuomo, the Speech and the Challenge to Democrats Today (In These Times)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch and Dan Cantor point to Mario Cuomo's vision of mutuality laid out at the 1984 Democratic National Convention as an example today's Democrats should follow.

5 Books: Reading Race and Economics (The Nation)

Joelle Gamble, National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, recommends books on the intersection of race and economics to accompany an article on the economic dimension of #BlackLivesMatter.

Plunge In Wall Street Money Bolsters Populist Shift Among Democrats (HuffPo)

Paul Blumenthal says Wall Street's dramatic shift of campaign resources away from the Democrats isn't the cause of recent populist moves, but less campaign donations creates less industry pressure on the party.

  • Roosevelt Take: Blumenthal links to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Ferguson's work on where different industries make their political donations; read his most recent paper on that topic here.

Calls for 'A Living Wage' (Times Union)

Matthew Hamilton reports on a Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy forum, "New York's Cities: Confronting Income Inequality," which featured Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations (TAP)

Sejal Parikh cites the recent closing of hundreds of Wet Seal clothing stores and subsequent brief worker outburst online as proof that with the right organization, these stories wouldn't fizzle out.

How Medicaid for Children Recoups Much of Its Cost in the Long Run (NYT)

Margot Sanger-Katz looks at a new study that shows a correlation between Medicaid eligibility and future earnings. Higher earnings means higher taxes, repaying the investment in childhood health.

Elizabeth Warren Is Taking Control of the Democratic Agenda (TNR)

David Dayen writes that Antonio Weiss's withdrawal from his Treasury nomination is proof that Senator Warren has quickly learned how to exert her power over all aspects of the Senate's work.

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On President Obama's Community College Plan and Public Options

Jan 9, 2015Mike Konczal

Looks like a smart plan he announced yesterday. I wrote about it, and public options more generally, here at The Nation. I hope you check it out!

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:


Looks like a smart plan he announced yesterday. I wrote about it, and public options more generally, here at The Nation. I hope you check it out!

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:


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Ten Years: Students Moving the Country Forward

Dec 18, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

After ten years of engaging young people in the political process, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues to push for a system that works for all of us.

In an email to peers at Stanford University students on November 4, 2004, a student attempted to turn the tide on the malaise setting in after a disappointing election night for progressives. He captured the sentiment of the moment:

Elections are a great time to shape the future of our country, but democracy is not something that happens every four years. We have a lot of work to do … we need to figure out how to explain what we care about in a coherent and convincing way, we need to develop a leadership network to match the conservatives of the next generation, and we need to keep public officials accountable to the issues that brought us all in.

In a follow-up email, he boiled it down to one simple statement: "I'm seeing a student-run think tank that will reinvigorate mainstream politics with a new generation's ideas."

In one of those rare occurrences that indicate that people might be on to something, others were incubating a similar concept. Two friends at Middlebury and Bates also felt compelled to respond to the political moment, and articulated their initial thoughts on a "think tank that unites college students across America under one political agenda aimed at taking back our democracy." Something similar was taking shape at Yale University.

The rest of the story is Roosevelt lore – the late nights, cross-country recruiting trips, the passionate debates about how best to position the organization to effectively elevate young people as a source for powerful ideas capable of policy change.

Yet what makes this particular story potent is that, ten years later, we celebrate not only that vision, but also today's reality. Thousands of students over the past ten years have worked tirelessly to actualize the initial vision that emerged from a bleak moment in our political history. We’ve published 600+ policy solutions that have been read over half a million times; trained thousands on how to challenge the fundamentals of our social, political, and economic systems; and catapulted young people as civic actors into key debates on the policy challenges of our day. Most importantly, the list of student and chapter successes on the ground is staggering in its breadth and depth of examples where young people have taken active ownership of their communities to bring about solutions with meaningful impact.

As a proud Roosevelter, I think we have much to celebrate. We took a few days last week to elevate our work in Washington, DC – a celebration that included a conversation with Representative Rosa DeLauro and members of Congress on how to look to best practices from Roosevelt’s model to effectively engage a new generation in policy and politics, a discussion on the Campus Network’s next ten years, and presentations at the White House featuring our student’s policy work. And of course, we hosted a party for 190+ alumni and supporters (a rockin’ one, according to keynote speaker Jared Bernstein).

Ten years is also a moment to look towards our future. It’s been a common refrain around our office and with our members that there are some unsettling parallels between the post-election reality ten years ago and the one we face today. Distrust of institutions is on the rise, policy priorities with high public support are thwarted by special interests, and our debate is seriously deprived (with a few exceptions) of a vision for what our country can build towards. We’re still in need of a shake up. The upside? Where things are happening, it’s often led or heavily supported by young people – from the ballot initiatives in the 2014 election to the sustained demand for accountability in our justice system.

It’s no secret that the political establishment is perplexed about young people. The media haphazardly jumps between two narratives, unable to decide if we’re self-absorbed, naïve and complacent in the face of our economic future, or the most civically minded quiet do-gooders since the Greatest Generation. Yet many of the major civic and political organizations are struggling with declining membership numbers. It’s not unheard of for organizations to develop “Millennial engagement strategies” to combat this problem.

We think the answer pretty simple: it’s about institutions and systems embracing the shifts instead of fearing them. From the moment they walk through the door, our members are asked to be a part of building something as equals. They’re given the tools to be the architects – and are instantly connected to a network of peers who support them. In a political system more interested in managing young people than tapping into their ingenuity and energy, Roosevelters come to us because they see the limitations of traditional pathways of engagement. As a result, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has remained a network that evolves and shifts as our students lead the way.

We aren’t, of course, the only ones – there is a vibrant ecosystem of organizations and movements that are also innovating and responding to the changing ways people of all ages are expressing their priorities. We could not be more proud of our alumni who have gone on to lead, participate in, and learn from these efforts.

Our successes also beg the question – what does this mean for the next ten years? How do we continue to amplify our strengths and evolve to reflect the moment, opportunities, and risks? That’s the conversation we’re having next – a conversation we want our alumni and supporters to be a part of. In 2015, the Roosevelt Institute will introduce our Alumni Network, which will focus on how to strengthen the Roosevelt community and its potential to influence social and economic priorities. If we are to respond to the call for an economic and democratic system that works for this century, it is going to take all of us.

It is now a Campus Network tradition to close any major convening or retreat with a passage from Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. It narrates President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting the nomination at the 1936 Democratic National Convention. It’s a famous speech, most notably for his “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” quote. We start reading a little earlier – Smith sets the stage, with the country emerging from the worst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt walks to the platform on the arm of his son James. Smith details a powerful moment, where the President sees the poet Edwin Markham, author of Man with a Hoe, reaches out to greet him, and stumbles and falls. People rush to snap his braces back into place. He then proceeds to give the speech, which puts forward uncompromising and substantive statements on political and economic equality. It’s resolute, forceful, and clear – there are wrongs we must right, power that needs to be rebalanced, problems to be solved by the people.

I hope that our members take two things away from the passage. First, that every individual can’t do it alone. Second, that it is possible to stand for something that upsets the current balance of power – and to see the country move forward as a result. It’s a valuable reminder today, when all seems hopeless in the face of stagnation and entrenchment.

As we look to the next ten years, that’s the question Roosevelters will continue to ask, and will eventually answer. What do we stand for, and how will we move this country forward?

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Vice President of Networks at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Universities Can Prevent the Race to the Bottom for Labor Standards

Dec 1, 2014Alan SmithJulius Goldberg-Lewis

Some of the negative changes in the workplace brought on by new technologies can be countered by institutions like universities setting higher standards.

Some of the negative changes in the workplace brought on by new technologies can be countered by institutions like universities setting higher standards.

The past 30 years have seen a revolution in communication and analytic technology, one that has begun to shape the nature of firms and the types of work that exist in the labor market. Internet communication technology (ICT) allows firms to share information across the world at speeds that are nearly instantaneous and practically for free. With this explosion of information has been a concerted effort on the parts of firms, governments, and individuals to capture and analyze the torrent of information being produced every second.

ICT is driving transaction costs to zero, and with it comes a hollowing out of traditional corporate infrastructure. Tasks that were once cheaper to do in-house can now be outsourced to private contractors in the U.S. or around the world. The firms that are most heralded as ‘the next big thing’ are no longer producers of widgets, but platforms that connect individuals. Facebook and Twitter do not provide content, but provide access; Uber and Lyft are not taxi companies, but rather platforms that connect individual demanders and suppliers. On the other side, incumbent firms are using ICT to develop to-the-minute data on sales patterns, allowing them to track exactly when and where their workers are needed. Whether it’s in the form of surge pricing‘just-in-time’ scheduling, or contracting out nearly every function of a company, the use of ICT has profound and evolving implications for consumers and workers.

With the explosion of technology has come a scramble to achieve maximum efficiency and minimal cost. As production expands horizontally, as opposed to vertically, Millennials are discovering that a life-long career simply can’t exist in a market that’s trending towards more and more freelance and contract work. One result of all this is that Millennials have begun to look to the stories of retirement parties and 30-year Rolexes as anachronistic Mad Men-style stories of an age long gone. We don't think of ourselves as working for the same place for long periods of time, and any notion of a pension or a retirement plan is hard to imagine. 

The second troubling effect of this is a lack of accountability of the largest and most powerful corporations. The old economic model of in-house labor allowed labor disputes, liability, and accountability to be tracked to a single corporate entity. As firms increasingly turn to specialized contractors to build their websites, staff their calling centers and warehouses, drive their taxis, and run their cafeterias, corporate responsibility becomes similarly defuse. When workers lose overtime pay at an Amazon fulfillment center, should the contractor or the parent company be at fault? Should the private contractor hold all the accountability, or should Amazon accept some responsibility? There is no sense that this new wave of "sharing economy" businesses is doing anything other then creating structured marketplaces, and skimming money off the top. This leaves the people doing the work – as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts – without anything to hold on to. As firms continue to contract, and subcontract, the economic befits to workers shrink dramatically, and there is an increased incentive to cut costs and corners. These cases are just coming to the surface, and no doubt will shape the labor landscape immensely.

It is precisely because of this complex and rapidly changing social situation that anchor institutions like colleges and universities need to take the lead in providing wages and careers that make sense. Anchor institutions, which are generating more attention in the post-recession economy, are those mission-driven institutions that are large sources of capital, purchasing, and employment, and which are tied to their communities. Unlike traditional firms, an anchor cannot move to another country for lower taxes, and they are often public or receive large amounts of public investment. Anchors hold a special place in our society: they are not corporations governed by a single-bottom line reality, and their missions are often directed toward and even mandate the promotion of the social good.

They also have real economic clout: One classic anchor type, universities, account for approximately 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, and they employ more than 3 million people. The hospital industry has an even larger impact with some 5 million employees. And these anchor institutions, tied as they are to location, are perfectly positioned to end the race to the bottom that is happening in other sectors. They will be able to reap the benefits from more money being injected in a local community, and they will grow as the social safety net continues to grow around them.

Anchors, working together, can do more than create a few hundred jobs at good wages with a real retirement plan. Anchors working together can set strong city-wide baselines for wages, and serve as a driving factor for economic development, public safety, local purchasing, and quality-of-life initiatives. Further, anchors actually have a values-based, mission-driven call to this work. As Millennials become a greater share of the workforce, it is on us to ensure that the economy of the future is one that promotes responsibility, accountability, growth, and equality. The technological strides of the past few decades have been enormous, and while they have allowed businesses to continue on a race to the bottom, they have also connected and mobilized a generation. In order to shift the national dialogue, the Campus Network has always believed that one must start at the local level. In order to ensure that the businesses of the future work for everyone, it must be shown that they can. The global brand of anchor institutions, from top tier universities to pioneering hospitals, have the soapbox, the moral imperative, and the means to drive this change, and a more democratic economy can begin to grow based on the successes of anchor reinvestment.

Alan Smith is the Associate Director of Networked Initiatives at the Roosevelt Institute.

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Midwestern Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Michigan.

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