When 21st Century Democrats founder Senator Tom Harkin delivered his farewell address to the U.S. Senate, he outlined critical income inequality issues for the upcoming Senate to address. Below is an excerpt of his remarks.
Growing economic inequality in America – it is destructive of lives, it slows our progress as a nation, and it will doom broad support for representative government. When people at the bottom of the economic ladder feel the government is not helping them and in fact may be stacked against them, they will cease to vote, or will turn to the siren song of extreme elements in our society. History proves this to be true.
I don’t have a cookie-cutter answer or solution, but it must include more fair tax laws and trade laws, more job training and retraining, rebuilding our physical infrastructure, and manufacturing.
And I believe it must include some things seemingly unrelated, like quality, free, early education for every child in America.
The answer to closing the inequality gap must include rebuilding labor unions and collective bargaining. If you trace the line over the last 40 years of our growing economic inequality and put that over another line showing the loss in the number of union workers, they are almost identical. I do not believe it is a stretch to say that organized labor, unions, built the middle class in America, and they are a part of the answer in strengthening and rebuilding our middle class.
Another part of the answer is raising the minimum wage to above the poverty line and inflation indexing it for the future.
We also need new flex time laws, especially for women in the workforce.
We need to strengthen Social Security, as in Senator Brown’s bill.
We need a new retirement system for all workers. Not another 401(k), but a system in which employers and employees contribute, which can only be withdrawn as an annuity for life after one retires, like the Netherlands has. Lack of a reliable retirement is one of the most underreported, unexamined crises on our national horizon, and it’s a big part of our growing inequality.
Finally, we must continue to build on the Affordable Care Act. The cost and availability of good health care has in the past widened the inequality gap. We are now starting to close that element of inequality. We need to add a public option to the exchange as another choice for people. And we must continue support for prevention and public health – moving us more and more away from “sick care” to real “health care.”
In a Senate floor speech, Senator Bernie Sanders detailed measures to create millions of new jobs, raise wages, protect the environment and provide health care for all.
Sanders’ progressive economic plan is designed to reverse a 40-year decline of the American middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else in the United States.
According to Sanders, the most significant question facing the American people is, “Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?”
The collapse of the middle class, accelerated by the Wall Street crash of 2008, has left the United States with more wealth and income inequality than any major country, and the highest rate of childhood poverty.
“Today, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages,” he said.
“We once led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college, but we are now in 12th place. Our infrastructure, once the envy of the world, is collapsing. Real unemployment today is not 5.8 percent, it is 11.5 percent, if we include those who have given up looking for work or who are working part time when they want to work full time. Youth unemployment is 18.6 percent and African-American youth unemployment is 32.6 percent.”
Sanders 12-point economic program would:
- Invest in our crumbling infrastructure with a major program to create jobs by rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools.
- Transform energy systems away from fossil fuels to create jobs while beginning to reverse global warming and make the planet habitable for future generations.
- Develop new economic models to support workers in the United States instead of giving tax breaks to corporations which ship jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
- Make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for higher wages and benefits.
- Raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour so no one who works 40 hours a week will live in poverty.
- Provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.
- Reform trade policies that have shuttered more than 60,000 factories and cost more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs.
- Make college affordable and provide affordable child care to restore America’s competitive edge compared to other nations.
- Break up big banks. The six largest banks now have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product, over $9.8 trillion. They underwrite more than half the mortgages in the country and issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards.
- Join the rest of the industrialized world with a Medicare-for-all health care system that provides better care at less cost.
- Expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
- Reform the tax code based on wage earners’ ability to pay and eliminate loopholes that let profitable corporations stash profits overseas and pay no U.S. federal income taxes.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered a strong message on behalf of progressives to the Democratic Party in the wake of the midterm election losses:
As a Democrat, I’m disappointed in last Tuesday’s results. But as a progressive, I know my party need not search for its soul — but rather, its backbone.
The truth is that the Democratic Party has core values that are very much in sync with most Americans.
We believe in taking dead aim at the income inequality that infects our communities — from big cities like New York, to small towns and rural areas across the United States.
We believe that the wealthy should pay their fair share so we can lift people out of poverty and grow our middle class.
And we believe in rules that prevent big corporations and Wall Street banks from unraveling workers’ pensions, suppressing employees’ wages and benefits, and rigging the system to reward wealth instead of work.
This year, too many Democratic candidates lost sight of those core principles — opting instead to clip their progressive wings in deference to a conventional wisdom that says bold ideas aren’t politically practical.
To working people, it showed Democratic weakness — a weak commitment to the change desperately sought by struggling families, and a weak alternative to a Republican philosophy that has held America back.
Bold, progressive ideas win elections.