The middle class is the great engine of the american economy. but today that engine is sputtering and as a result, both american families and the economy are struggling. the wages of most workers have been stuck in neutral for 30 years. More and more americans—even those with college degrees—are toiling in jobs that do not pay enough to support their families in dignity and offer hope of a brighter future. and the jobs that will grow the most in the next decade are low wage, stripped of benefits and requiring no more than a high school diploma. unless our nation focuses on making today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good, the long-term prospects for our families’ well-being and the national economy are bleak.
Our nation grew in prosperity and opportunity in the 20th century as our government, business and labor worked together to promote policies to build the middle class, founded on earning decent wages and benefits and broadly sharing in the nation’s growing prosperity. but in the past 30 years, the picture has been turned upside down. the poorest fifth got poorer and middle-income families gained very little, with only upper income americans seeing significant increases in pay.
The growing number of low-wage jobs do not come with basics like paid sick days to allow workers to care for themselves or their families. and only a small proportion of americans can take time off from work to care for a newborn child or a sick family member, without losing their entire paycheck.
As we inch out of the great Recession of 2009, the majority (58%) of the jobs that have been regained are low wage. When we look forward, the prospects are no better. eight of the 10 high-growth jobs— covering four million workers—require no more than a high school education.
Rebuilding the great american middle class in the 21st century will once again take deliberate action by the american people, through our government and by businesses that understand—even in the global economy—that our mutual long-term prosperity depends on treating workers everywhere with dignity and giving them the means to a decent standard of living. it will mean taking a u-turn from the policies of the past 30 years, which have squeezed workers in the pursuit of short-term profits, slowly hollowing out the middle class on which our long-term prosperity is built.
10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century lays out a road map for this u-turn. We describe common sense policies towards making today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good. the core value guiding this road map is that work lies at the center of a robust and sustainable economy; that all work has dignity; and that through work, all of us should be able to support our families, educate our children and enjoy our retirements.
- MAKE EVERY JOB A GOOD JOB. The majority of the high-growth jobs in America – retail sales, home health and personal aides and food prep workers – pay very low wages and provide little chance of promotion. A Department of Labor proposal – just one of the fixes for this problem – would expand protections to the nation’s 2.5 million home care workers, who work in one of the fastest-growing job categories but are excluded from minimum wage and overtime laws.
- FIX THE MINIMUM WAGE. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would restore the lost value of the minimum wage, index it to inflation and raise the tipped-worker wage – increasing take home pay for 28 million hardworking Americans and boosting consumer spending and job creation.
- SAVE GOOD PUBLIC AND PRIVATE JOBS. Federal, state and local governments have shrunk their workforces by 580,000 since the recession ended in 2009. And the private sector has shipped 1.2 million jobs overseas since 2008. Federal funds should be provided to state and local governments to hire back teachers, firefighters and other public employees. And the government should end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
- ENSURE HEALTH AND RETIREMENT SECURITY. Strengthen the partnership between employers, workers and the public by implementing the Affordable Care Act, protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and establishing new retirement accounts for those workers who rely now just on Social Security.
- UPHOLD THE FREEDOM TO JOIN A UNION. Outdated laws and corporate-driven policies have severely weakened the ability of workers to freely join together and collectively bargain. These trends have driven down wages and benefits. Fix the National Labor Relations Act to create a fair process for workers to choose union representation and restore the freedom to bargain collectively.
- MAKE THE MODERN WORKPLACE PRO-FAMILY. The rules of the workplace haven’t kept pace with the changing economy. Earned sick days and affordable family leave are indispensable to the health of today’s workforce, our communities and economy. The Healthy Families Act would give 90% of private sector workers (in businesses of 15 or more) the ability to earn up to seven paid sick days each year to deal with personal or family illness or seek medical care.
- STOP WAGE THEFT. Strengthen and enforce the laws against wage theft. By paying workers less than the minimum wage, not paying for overtime and sometimes not paying workers at all, unscrupulous employers are cheating workers and dragging down wages for the entire low-wage workforce.
- REQUIRE THAT YOUR BOSS BE YOUR EMPLOYER. More and more companies are hiring permanent temp workers, paying temps and part-timers at a lower rate and giving fewer or no benefits, and misclassifying employees as independent contractors. The Department of Labor and IRS should vigorously enforce the laws meant to stop employers from mistreating actual employees.
- GIVE UNEMPLOYED JOB-SEEKERS A REAL, FRESH START. Reauthorize federal unemployment insurance for 2013 and pass the Fair Employment Opportunity Act to end job market practices that discriminate against unemployed job seekers.
- TOUGHEN LAWS PROTECTING WORKER SAFETY AND HEALTH. Millions of workers are injured or made sick on the job every year, and thousands die as a result. Enacting the Protect American Workers Act, for example, would modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Act to improve work safety and enforcement.