How best to preserve our eroding middle class and grow it in the near future so more Americans can have opportunities to succeed? This question is at the heart of a decades long Washington political battle between Republicans and Democrats. At least since the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama has been referring to growing the middle class "from the middle out." In the State of the Union, the President elaborated the policies he believes will do just that, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 which polls say the public supports.
You can imagine how these ideas are blowing over with Republicans. To be fair, the GOP is expressing legitimate concerns on the impact of a wage hike to the economy. Similar to "Obamacare," countless personal anecdotes, news stories, and studies document how a federal minimum wage increase hurts the middle class by hitting them in the pocketbook by eliminating jobs. Specifically, the proposed higher minimum wage would cut approximately 500,000 jobs because companies could not afford to keep higher wage employees on the payroll, according to a report by the credible and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The Hispanic-focused, center-right group LIBRE Initiative argues this increase will hurt workers of color more since African-Americans and Latino, who generally hold lower wage jobs, will see their hours or positions go poof!-bah-bye-you're fired.
This same report also claims that the nearly $3.00/hour more would help lift 900,000 people of out poverty. Who are "those people?" Two-thirds are women, single moms, and not surprisingly, of color, according to the National Women's Law Center. Remember that these women are struggling to keep a roof over their family's head and food on the table with federal assistance programs such as food stamps the difference between being fed or going to bed hungry. A Washington Post blog correctly notes that businesses not paying higher wages sticks taxpayers with the bill in the form of more demand for government assistance by people not able to make ends meet.
What hasn't been talked about are the benefits nearly $3/hour more brings to local economies. Remember that our economy is majority fueled by consumer spending. Thus it follows that more money in people's paycheck will go to local business such as grocery stores, car dealers, and mechanics. And if these economic perks aren't discussed, neither are the "soft benefits" of freeing up parents who are working two, three jobs to spend more time reading to their kids or checking homework. Think this is all We-Are-The-World-Kumbaya? Study after study document the vital role of parental involvement in student success and life outcomes.
Going back to the larger picture of rebuilding the middle class, the federal minimum wage increase proposal comes months before the 2014 midterm elections. Take the President's decision to not support a less generous Social Security formula (oh hi Senior voters, aka reliable voters) or the reported $56 billion "investments" in his 2015 budget proposal he will unveil in early March which focus on job training and early education. The President, who as I note at the beginning has been beating this drum since the 2012 election, is making a forceful case that upon comparison, the Democratic party is sticking up for the middle class.
Always a reporter, I checked out the web pages and Twitter of the GOP party and leadership, including Speaker Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor. #AnAmericaThatWorks is a whole lotta hashtag bluster:
What are the specifics?
A firm believer that a strengthened Republican party is in our country's best interest, I would like to see GOP input, for example, on how to support small businesses through tax credits. Personally, I would like to leave it up to companies and states. But they're run by people who don't always exercise common sense for the common good. Case in point: the 2008 global financial meltdown brought to you by Wall Street masters of the universe. Additionally, not every company is The Gap which voluntarily raises its minimum wage. America shouldn't be The Hunger Games where if you are born into the wrong "district" or despite going to school and professional experience but don't work at a generous company, then tough.
The President's proposals are not doctrine rather a starting point. That will require participation: will Republicans articulate specific policies to help the middle class that aren't betrayed by ideology and politics? Barring significant set back such as another healthcare website blunder, will Democrats stay united? Will voters show up?
Click below to watch this discussion which aired on February 23, 2014.What are some programs working to strengthen the middle class that need to get a shout out?