Reprinted from www.huffingtonpost.com
The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all? 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? These are the most important questions of our time, and how we answer them will determine the future of our country.
The long-term deterioration of the
middle class, accelerated by the Wall Street crash of 2008, has not been
pretty. Today, we have more wealth and income inequality than any
major country on earth. We have one of the highest childhood poverty
rates and we are the only country in the industrialized world which does
not guarantee health care for all. 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
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.
Today, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the median male worker earned $783 less last year than he made 41 years ago. The median woman worker made $1,337 less last year than she earned in 2007. Since 1999, the median middle-class family has seen its income go down by almost $5,000 after adjusting for inflation, now earning less than it did 25 years ago.
As Vermont's senator, here are 12 initiatives that I will be fighting for which can restore America's middle class.
1. We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. It has been estimated that the cost of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, a war we should never have waged, will total $3 trillion by the time the last veteran receives needed care. A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war.
2. The United States must lead the
world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is
habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our
energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and
sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be
weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and
we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in
wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy.
Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment,
it will create good paying jobs.
3. We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives. Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.
4. Union workers who are able to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits earn substantially more than non-union workers. Today, corporate opposition to union organizing makes it extremely difficult for workers to join a union. We need legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form a union.
5. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.
7. Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.
8. In today's highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs. Further, with both parents now often at work, most working-class families can't locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids. Quality education in America, from child care to higher education, must be affordable for all. Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.