Five days before the election, President Obama told a boisterous crowd in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that our work is not done. “Our fight goes on because we know this nation cannot succeed without a growing, thriving middle class; and strong, sturdy ladders into the middle class,” he said. “And that’s why I’m running for a second term as president — because we have more work to do.”
The election is over and American voters agree with President Obama — we must charge ahead to rebuild our economy and the middle class. The president’s commitment to the middle class will be tested shortly by the fiscal showdown: he must resist the pressure to make a bad deal that puts Medicare and Medicaid at risk and jeopardizes Social Security benefits for American workers.
That isn’t what the people of this country want and that isn’t what this country needs. This so-called “grand bargain” will be a grand disaster for working families at a time when the greatest need is to grow the economy and create jobs.
On Tuesday, Americans clearly articulated what they want in President Obama’s second term. Nearly six in ten voters ranked the economy as the top issue in this election. Almost half of all voters agreed that taxes should be increased for the wealthiest Americans and more than half of all voters said the current economic system disproportionately favors the wealthy. Almost three quarters of all voters support protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits.
President Obama heard what voters had to say at the polls on Tuesday. In his acceptance speech, he articulated what should be the guideposts for policy decisions: “I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class.”
Austerity economics — the slash and burn economic principals promoted by Mitt Romney and right-wing ideologues in Congress — is the way backward. Prosperity economics — a progressive economic agenda put forth by Yale Professor Jacob Hacker and Nate Loewentheil — represents the bold thinking we need to rebuild a strong, secure middle class and grow our economy now and for future generations. Prosperity economics is the way forward.
What does prosperity economics mean?
A prosperity economics agenda identifies five key policy areas: investment in our crumbling infrastructure; good jobs with fair wages; strong health care and retirement security; first-class public schools from pre-k through college and protection in the workplace to bargain collectively.
Prosperity economics means investing in our nation’s outdated infrastructure. If we put $1 billion towards our roads, bridges, ports, airports and public transportation, we can create up to 18,000 good, middle class jobs. Hurricane Sandy drove this point home: we need substantial investments in infrastructure. With low interest rates and high unemployment, we should make these investments now.
Prosperity economics will create good jobs with fair wages. We need to raise the minimum wage until it reaches half the level of the average wage, as it did fifty years ago. Increasing the minimum wage will generate an estimated $60 billion in spending.
With a prosperity economics agenda, working families will have health care and retirement security. We must strengthen and expand Social Security so it remains a solid foundation for retirement. We must make Medicare stronger by building on existing reforms that control costs without reducing benefits.
Prosperity economics is about making sure we have excellent public schools and job training so that all kids, especially the underserved, get the education they need to succeed in college and in career so we have a productive, competitive workforce.
And in the workplace, people must have the right to bargain collectively. If workers can’t bargain collectively, wages won’t keep up with productivity (as they have not for the last four decades). The erosion of collective bargaining has adversely affected all workers.
Democrats across the country won this week because voters support elected officials who embrace this vision of prosperity economics. The president has said that economic policy must focus on rebuilding the middle class. Prosperity economics would deliver this promise.
President Obama can show Americans he is serious by rejecting any deal with social insurance cutbacks that would make life more challenging for working families than it is right now. That would be moving us in the wrong direction. Raising taxes on the well-off is critically important to addressing the spending needs we have and the long-term deficit challenges we face. However, a more progressive tax structure will be insufficient to accomplish the necessary rebuilding of the middle class.
President Obama closed his campaign speech in Green Bay by saying that “now is the time to keep pushing forward” — to train our workers, create new jobs, provide effective rights at work, rebuild our infrastructure and grow our middle class. He is right: now is the time. Now is the time to reject failed austerity policies and embrace the promise of prosperity economics.
Lawrence Mishel has co-authored numerous books, including The State of Working America, Emerging Labor Market Institutions for the Twenty-First Century, The Charter School Dust-up: Examining the Evidence On Enrollment And Achievement, and The Teaching Penalty: Teacher Pay Losing Ground
Prior to his appointment as Executive Director of the Center in 2002, Deepak Bhargava served as the Center’s Director of Public Policy. The mission of the Center, a national nonprofit organization, is to develop the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that affect their lives. Mr. Bhargava also directed the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, a coalition of grassroots groups established in 2000 to give low-income people a voice in the reauthorization of the federal welfare law and other areas critical to poor people.
Follow Deepak Bhargava on Twitter: www.twitter.com/communitychange
This has been reposted from The Huffington Post.