By David Bly
In his recent visit to Minnesota, President Obama talked of a woman named Rebekah. She is one of millions of Americans who, to use the President’s words, “work hard, do everything right, and still feel like the odds are stacked against them.”
In other words, we are losing our middle class society.
By a middle class society, I mean one that supports our democracy. I mean one that creates growth and opportunities for each and every one of us. I mean one that benefits everyone, not just a select few.
In my years in the state legislature, I noticed that everyone talks about saving our middle class society, but many seem to want to do just the opposite. They talk of cutting education, defunding health programs, letting our roads fall apart, and how we should all work more for less. They want us to go it alone, to ignore Paul Wellstone’s great advice: “We all do better when we all do better.”
So how do we save our middle class economy? A middle class society is supported by five building blocks: education, health care, transportation, clean energy and environment, and living wage jobs. Maintaining these foundations must be our number one legislative priority if we are to provide people like Rebekah with the opportunities they deserve.
Education is something everyone agrees is vitally important. Many states commit to quality education for all in their constitutions. But too often, actions are speaking louder than words. College is harder to afford and does not guarnatee the job prospects it used to. The same budget cuts that put college out of reach are wreaking havoc at all levels of education.
We know that a society that can’t provide health care for all its citizens is a society at risk. We hear that we have the best health care in the world. But the numbers tell us differently. Our health outcomes do not measure up to the rest of the world because our system, even with the advances made with the Affordable Care Act, does not assure universal access.
Healthy economies require that goods and people can move around easily. Investment in transportation infrastructure is essential if we are to grow. But we aren’t making the investments we need. We all feel the cost as roads, bridges, and public transportation are neglected.
Environment and energy use go hand-in-hand in a middle class economy. A clean, safe environment supports good health and quality of life for everyone. But instead of moving forward on clean energy, we continue to rely on imported oil and to live with the economic and environmental consequences. Shouldn’t our foreign policy be based on something nobler than oil imports?
The fifth foundation of a middle class economy is living wage jobs. Generations before us took for granted that hard working Americans would share in our prosperity and created our middle class society. But we have abandoned that understanding. Wages for most Americans have flat-lined during the past few decades in spite of continuing pressure from rising costs of life’s essentials.
President Obama calls it “economic patriotism.” I call it “maintaining the foundations of a middle class society.” But we all know what the signs saying “Opportunity for All” mean, and we all understand that costs of losing that vision for America.
Every legislative session faces tough choices. The next one will be no different than the last in that regard. My dream, as one of your elected representatives, is that from now on we will be guided not by more talk and rhetoric, but by clear roadmap for restoring and enhancing the five foundations of our middle class society.