An Economic Bill of Rights for the 21st Century
Economic mobility has drastically declined since the 1940s. Unemployment and underemployment are persistent problems, especially for stigmatized groups who are subject to discriminatory exclusion from employment opportunities. In today’s economy, the American dream is just a dream, or worse, a rhetorical device that draws attention away from the economic reality playing out across the country. Despite long-term growth in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, in real terms middle-income Americans have less than they did 40 years ago. Poverty, especially amongst the most vulnerable in our society—our children—persists at unjust levels. Despite President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, declared more than 50 years ago, 43.1 million Americans remain in poverty, nearly 20 million of whom live in deep poverty. There’s no question that past policies intended to reduce poverty and inequality have fallen tragically short.
It’s time to think big. The rules that govern our economy are working best for far too few, at the expense of far too many. While Republicans have sought to dismantle the New Deal and the regulatory apparatus that was developed to protect Americans from an unfettered private sector, Democrats in recent decade have mustered no more than incremental changes to an increasingly unequal and unfair economy. The rise of Donald Trump provides a political lesson for both Democrats and Republicans: People are looking outside the box. Despite the vast gulf between the two major political parties on many issues, on fundamentals both have adhered to a neoliberal agenda of deregulation, reliance on market-based solutions to our social problems, and a devolution of the role of government in ensuring and enforcing Americans’ right to a decent standard of living, economic dignity and economic mobility.
Direct government intervention for full employment, a cornerstone of the Democratic Party Platform for almost half a century, has been all but forgotten, replaced by a commitment to market liberalization or tax incentives and other subsidies for corporate America to cajole them into hiring more workers. Policies put forth by Hillary Clinton in 2016, which included raising the minimum wage and promoting equal pay for equal work for women, would have improved the lives of many working Americans – but they do not go nearly far enough. They do not address the fundamental problem of increasing risk and vulnerability—employment “precarity”—confronting the American workforce.
Let us be clear: Our economic reality is not mere circumstance; these are the result of policy choices.
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