The preamble to our Constitution says that we are to strive to “form a more perfect union.” The key word in this passage is “more.” We are to be in a constant state of improvement. Perfection will always elude us. America will always have problems. It is how we handle them that will tell our tale.
In 2017, our problems seem overwhelming. Climate change, a broken political system, and a President who is hostile to even the most fundamental American values. However, a good argument can be made that the problem that most threatens our cohesion as a nation is economic.
By State Senator and PA-7 Congressional Candidate Daylin LeachWe have the greatest income and wealth disparity in 100 years. One percent of the population controls almost half of our wealth. The bottom 80% of us control only 7%. Over the past quarter-century, while the wealthiest among us have seen their income go up 300%, the average American hasn’t seen their income go up at all. Ninety-eight percent of all new wealth created goes to the top 1%.
Average Americans can’t afford to send their kids to college or save for retirement. The minimum wage hasn’t gone up in over a decade, and those living on it are spending their days struggling to buy even the basics. The middle class has shrunk by 30% over the past 35 years, as more and more people slip into poverty.
All of this is not only tragic, it is unsustainable. Those who are struggling so much are increasingly angry. We face possible consequences ranging from economic collapse to social unrest, if we don’t address this issue. Yet, the current administration in Washington is trying to enact policies to make this bad situation far worse.
There are a few basic steps we can take to stabilize things and allow everyone to live at least a somewhat decent life. We could raise the minimum wage to a livable wage, make health-care a human right that cannot be taken away, enact reasonable family-leave and sick-time policies, and begin treating college like high school and provide a cost-free option for every child with the talent and desire to go.
The problem, however, is that we too often allow partisan and ideological rigidity to get in the way of problem-solving. In the PA Senate, I have personally seen knee-jerk opposition on the part of some to every single proposal that improves the lives of workers in any way. Some of that is simply a morally inexcusable indifference to how people are forced to live.
However, as a progressive, I can say that some of it is our fault. For too long, we have framed the issue as a zero-sum game. “Pay your workers more!” we shout, or “Give them more paid time off!” It is not difficult to see why some in the business community feel like progressives view business as an ATM of benefits, without any concern for the survival of the business itself.
We have to change. I’m not suggesting abandoning progressive values. What I am suggesting is making business part of the conversation and part of our vision for what America could be. I’ve recently spoken to a number of very enlightened entrepreneurs. They recognize that a worker who is living a decent life is a happier, healthier, more productive, and more loyal worker. Employers who already have internal policies similar to what I am calling for as public policies have lower turnover rates and spend less on retraining. Workers who aren’t worried about how they are going to afford dinner can focus on solving work-related problems. Giving employees a paid sick day prevents them from coming into work and infecting everyone else. Workers paid well enough to afford the products their employer sells increase demand for those products and add to their company’s bottom line.
I think we have to make the case that progressive policies don’t benefit workers at the expense of employers but, rather, benefit both workers and employers. We are all in this together, and together, and only together, we can all create a brighter future.
Daylin Leach represents the 17th District in the PA State Senate and is running for the U.S. House in PA’s 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Chester, and Lancaster Counties. A longtime resident of PA-7, Senator Leach won election to the PA House in 2002 and was elected to the PA Senate in 2008.