Opinions and Editorials
Despite Struggling Economy, American Workers Are Better Off
With the economy still weak and unemployment too high, American workers are of two minds about whether they are better off or not. There is hope for the future and confidence that President Obama is doing all he can, but there is also a consensus that things are not better -- yet.
The economic free-fall created by Bush Administration policies would have grown worse had President Obama and the Speaker Pelosi-led Congress not taken action and passed a recovery package. Or worse, had the Minority Leader McConnell-led Republicans succeeded in filibustering the recovery package. The 111th Congress has been a two headed monster, racking up successes (the Cash for Clunkers program) but dawdling while important worker initiatives (like the Employee Free Choice Act) wait for action.
If you ask John Meyerson, a union representative in Philadelphia, he’ll tell that he has hope for what the Obama Administration can do, but that his members haven’t felt it yet. The concessionary collective bargaining that his union has done doesn’t make his members feel better off yet, but he is still campaigning for heath care reform.
Remember, it has been just six months since President Obama signed into law his recovery plan and only 14% of the billions of dollars available have been spent, yet the effects are already being felt in communities across the country. Job losses are slowing, down to 1.3 million in the second quarter from 2 million in the first. Low and middle income workers got a tax cut, indeed 95% of all working Americans got a tax cut. GDP shrunk less than expected in June. Signs are that the housing and financial markets are stabilizing.
The plan is working in real ways, too. Candy Johnson in Lewiston, ID has worked for years as a waitress but without adequate medical or dental insurance she’s been unable to care for her teeth and no one wanted to hire her in their restaurant. Recovery dollars allowed for the opening of a health clinic in nearby Spokane and Candy was able to see a dentist. Not only is the clinic hiring people to work, they are helping those in the community to get healthy so they can work, too. It is a good example of the use of public dollars for health care, where private health care fails even working people.
The last increase in the minimum wage just took place as well, raising the wages of 5 million workers and having a stimulative effect as they buy groceries, health care, pay for rent, mortgages, and tuition. Enactment of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will help end pay discrimination for millions of American women and their families. And the U.S. Department of Labor is in the process of hiring 250 additional investigators to ensure that workers get their pay from unscrupulous employers.
But the real test is not where we are today – less than a year into a new Administration – but where are we going. On this point, make no mistake; American workers are more optimistic and hopeful than last year. If you ask Amy Hoeschen, a college student in Minnesota scheduled to graduate this fall, she’ll tell you it’s better to graduate into an Obama recovery than a Bush recession.
Or Gregory Wilson in Michigan who just got recalled to his steel manufacturing facility in Jackson. The union made some concession, but being back to work is better than being among the nearly 4 million who are unemployed in that state.
The challenge is for the Congress and the Obama Administration to make change real, in spite of Filibuster-in-Chief McConnell, Make-Him fail Limbaugh, and their teabagging allies. American workers are looking forward with hope, not backward, with resignation. There are no two ways about it.
Michael J. Wilson is National Director of Americans for Democratic Action – the nation’s leading advocate for working families.Opinion and Editorial Archive