Empowering Working & Middle Class Americans to Thrive
In America today, it is harder and harder not only to get ahead, but also to hold on to what we’ve got. The stock market may be up, but millions of Americans see their paychecks stay flat even as the costs of health care, housing, and college are rising.From 2001 to 2016, real income per adult (i.e. income adjusted for rising costs) fell by 5% among those not in the top half. See column 1 of sheets TB6-TB9 from Piketty, Thomas, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 133, no. 2 (May 10, 2018): 553–609. For too many workers, one job is not enough. Working and middle class families simply can’t keep up.
In my mom and dad’s generation, nine out of every ten kids did better than their parents. But for Americans of my generation, the odds are no better than a coin flip.Leonhardt, David. “The American Dream, Quantified at Last.” New York Times. December 8, 2016. This news article is based on Chetty, Raj, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, and Jimmy Narang. “The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series. December 2016. Working family incomes have stagnated almost my entire life.From 1979 to 2016, average income per adult in the bottom half of the income distribution rose only 2%. This statistic refers to all-in pay and benefits, including employer-provided health care. See: Piketty, Thomas, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 133, no. 2 (May 10, 2018): 553–609. Meanwhile, most of our economic growth goes to a smaller and smaller slice of the wealthiest Americans—a dangerous level of inequality that not only threatens our economic security, but also tears at the very fabric of our democracy and our society.From 2001 to 2016, income per adult rose by 21% among the top tenth but rose by only 4% among the remaining 90% and fell by 5% among those not in the top half. See column 1 of sheets TB6-TB9 from Piketty, Thomas, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 133, no. 2 (May 10, 2018): 553–609.
In my mom and dad’s generation, nine out of every ten kids did better than their parents. But for Americans of my generation, the odds are no better than a coin flip.
We need an economy that delivers more. Families across the country need to see higher incomes, lower costs, and a brighter future for our children. In the United States, economic gains should be shared by everyone and everyone should have a fair shot at real opportunity.
The status quo with companies like Facebook and Uber setting the rules and government sitting on the sidelines must change. Our government can, and should, play a role in setting a level playing field that gives all Americans a chance to succeed. That doesn’t mean government taking over the economy. But government does need to be a vigorous presence in ensuring that our economy actually works for all. That means strict enforcement of new and existing labor laws to rebalance power toward workers and ensure that new industries and technologies fuel growth, not more inequality. That means public investments that lead to thriving workers, children, and families. And that means providing Americans with low-cost, high-quality public options in health and education that spur competition and drive the private sector to improve.
Families across the country need to see higher incomes, lower costs, and a brighter future for our children.
As president, I will measure success not just by the size of the stock market or gross domestic product, but by whether working and middle class families are succeeding. I will use public enforcement, public investments, and public options to make the economy deliver for all Americans, not just those at the top.
This plan will:
Pete's agenda starts by lowering costs for American families. Today, more than half of a working family’s income is consumed by housing,Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Expenditures - 2018.” Economic News Release. September 10, 2019. health care, and child care.Malik, Rasheed. “Working Families Are Spending Big Money on Child Care.” Center for American Progress. June 20, 2019. When kids grow up and go to college, expenses only increase.Powell , Farran, and Emma Kerr. “What You Need to Know About College Tuition Costs.” U.S. News & World Report. September 18, 2019. Pete will lower costs through both public regulations that protect consumers, and low-cost, high-quality public options that keep the private sector competitive.
Rent—let alone owning your own home—is simply out of reach for too many families.Dewan, Shaila. “In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class.” The New York Times. April 14, 2014. Pete will invest $430 billion to unlock access to affordable housing for over 7 million families. He’ll dramatically increase the supply of affordable housing by building or restoring over 2 million units for the lowest-income Americans, as well as work to reform local zoning laws to make it easier to build housing for working and middle-class families. Pete will also invest in homeownership, particularly for Black Americans, enabling 1 million more low-income families to become homeowners. A Buttigieg administration will simultaneously launch the Community Homestead Act to facilitate wealth accumulation through homeownership for low-income families from formerly redlined neighborhoods. His administration will invest $170 billion to ensure that all eligible families with children have access to housing choice vouchers, mobility counseling, and wrap-around services. And he’ll make critical investments in local infrastructure, education, and business development to ensure that every neighborhood is a neighborhood of opportunity.
In more than half of states, a year of child care is more expensive than in-state college tuition.Zillman, Claire. “Childcare Costs More Than College Tuition in More Than Half of U.S. States.” Fortune, October 22, 2018. Pete will make a historic $700 billion investment in affordable, universal, high-quality, and full-day early learning, as well as outside-of-school learning opportunities in K-12 education. He will make early learning and care from birth through age five free for lower-income families and affordable for all, and invest in the child care workforce. As part of this broader program, Pete will strengthen and build on Head Start. Because child care costs continue after children start school, Pete will invest in a new, innovative program to provide cost assistance to working and middle class families for after-school and summer programming.
College costs squeeze families and stifle our future—putting the brakes on new industries, businesses, or scientific discoveries that could accelerate economic growth. Pete will invest $500 billion to make college affordable for working and middle class families, so that 80% of families of public college students that earn up to $100,000 will not pay any public college tuition. Larger Pell Grants for students at public colleges will help students from low-income backgrounds graduate completely debt-free. A Buttigieg administration will also make $50 billion in new investments in HBCUs and MSIs to help students of color thrive.
One out of every five dollars spent in America is spent on health care.“National Health Expenditure - Historical.” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. December 11, 2018. These costs devastate American families. That’s why Pete’s Medicare For All Who Want It plan gives Americans a low-cost, high-quality choice when it comes to their health care. The public option will force private insurers to step up: If they want to compete, they’re going to have to find a way to cut costs and provide better services.
Drugs are more expensive in America than in any other country in the world.Langreth, Robert. “Quick Take: Drug Prices.” Bloomberg. February 5, 2019. Pete’s Affordable Medicine For All plan dramatically reduces drug costs and forces pharmaceutical companies to price responsibly and pay their fair share.
Another major source of high costs in America are the bad actors that have abused corporate power and trampled on consumer rights. Pete knows that our system is off balance when you can’t sue your credit card company even after they get caught ripping you off. Pete will announce a bold regulation plan to end these and many more abuses, further lowering costs for working and middle class families.
Pete will raise working and middle class incomes by unlocking income earned by working Americans and resetting the balance of power between workers and corporations. He will also invest in workers and the well-paying middle class jobs of the future in growing industries like clean energy, health care, and technology.
Working and middle class Americans are not getting paid what they are due. Corporations suppress women’s incomes. Black Americans face barriers to getting a promotion or starting a business. Working and middle class families often face higher tax rates than billionaires.Leonhardt, David. “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.” The New York Times. October 6, 2019. To address these challenges, Pete will:
This will increase incomes by an average of $1,000 per year for 35 million American families, as proposed in the Working Families Tax Relief Act. This $400 billion tax cut offsets income taxes and other taxes that eat into workers’ take-home pay.Number of families: Marr, Chuck, Brendan Duke, Yixuan Huang, Jennifer Beltrán, Vincent Palacios, and Arloc Sherman. “Working Families Tax Relief Act Would Raise Incomes of 46 Million Households, Reduce Child Poverty.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. April 10, 2019. Cost: Maag, Elaine. “Working Families Tax Relief Act Provides Substantial Benefits - And Misses Opportunity.” Tax Policy Center. September 26, 2019.
This will deliver a raise to over 25 million low-wage workers and spur wage increases for millions more middle-wage workers.Cooper, David. “Raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $15 by 2025 Would Lift Wages for over 33 Million Workers.” Economic Policy Institute, July 17, 2019. The 33.5 million number includes directly affected workers and also workers who benefit as the pay rises ripple up the pay ladder: about 40% of wage gains after a minimum wage increase accrue to workers above the new minimum. See: Cengiz, Doruk Arindrajit Dube, Attila Lindner, and Ben Zipperer. “The Effect of Minimum Wages on Low-Wage Jobs” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 134, no. 3 (May 02, 2019): 1405–1454. Pete will also end the tipped minimum wage and the subminimum wage.
Pete will pass an enhanced version of the FAMILY Act to create a national paid family and medical leave fund. Such a policy will ensure that benefits for lower-income workers are high enough so they can afford to take leave.
A Buttigieg administration will require gender pay transparency, banning the use of salary history to determine wages, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, aggressively enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, and ensuring women can access the STEM education and technical training that enable them to join and lead America’s most innovative industries.
People of color have been intentionally excluded from American prosperity. Through actions that include launching the Walker-Lewis Initiative, expanding the SBA Microloan Program, doubling loans awarded to women-owned small businesses, and supercharging investment in Community Development Finance Institutions, Pete will unlock $60 billion to support underrepresented entrepreneurs including—Black Americans and women.
A Buttigieg administration will raise pay standards, ensure the right to union representation and bargaining, and create pathways to career development and certification.
We must raise incomes and keep them growing. Pete’s administration will do this through major public investments in workforce development and job growth that not only keep the wheels of industry turning, but also ensure workers can benefit. Pete will work with states and local communities to:
Pete will invest $50 billion in workforce training and lifelong learning. Local non-profits, unions, employers, and community colleges have created proven pathways for young and middle-age workers into good jobs.For example: Schwartz, Nelson D. “Job Training Can Change Lives. See How San Antonio Does It.” The New York Times, August 19, 2019. Pete will invest federal dollars into these programs so that incomes can grow for all workers, whether or not they have a college degree.
Pete will invest up to $5 billion over the next decade to ensure an apprenticeship program in a growing industry is available within 30 miles of every American.
A Buttigieg administration will invest in green infrastructure and other measures that will prevent climate catastrophe and revitalize local communities.
Pete will also offer manufacturing technology transition loan guarantees for retooling existing automobile and powertrain assembly lines, as well as boosting domestic manufacturing.
Better internet will enable rural workers to be more productive and earn higher wages, as well as unlock the potential for local business growth and global connectivity.“Improved Digital Access Means Big Opportunities for Rural American Businesses.” US Chamber of Commerce. March 21, 2019.
Pete will provide up to $500 million in federal funds to develop and support a national network of 1,000 clusters and create additional matching funding for investment in innovative rural businesses.
Government and business policies have relentlessly tilted the balance of power away from workers and toward corporations. The minimum wage has fallen by 30%.The federal minimum wage has fallen from $10.54 in 1968 (in 2019 dollars) to $7.25 today. Cooper, David, Elise Gould, and Ben Zipperer. “Low-Wage Workers Are Suffering from a Decline in the Real Value of the Federal Minimum Wage.” Economic Policy Institute. August 27, 2019. Union membership has fallen by 70%.Union membership rates have fallen from 35% in the 1950s to 10.5% in 2018. Hirsch, Barry, and David Macpherson. “Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment Among All Wage and Salary Workers, 1973-2018.” 2019. Greenhouse, Steven. “Union Membership in U.S. Fell to a 70-Year Low Last Year.” The New York Times. January 21, 2011. For some workers, bargaining does not even exist.Bahn, Kate.“McDonald’s, Monopsony, and the Need for Joint Employer Standards.” Washington Center for Equitable Growth. April 5, 2018. The number of U.S. McDonald’s restaurants grew from 2,500 in 1973 to 14,000 in 2015. See: Vella, Matt.“Here’s How McDonald’s Became the King of Burgers.” Fortune. May 15, 2015. Wakabayashi, Daisuke.“Google’s Shadow Work Force: Temps Who Outnumber Full-Time Employees.” The New York Times. May 28, 2019. Fernández Campbell, Alexia.“The Worldwide Uber Strike Is a Key Test for the Gig Economy: Uber Drivers Can’t Unionize. They’re Striking Wednesday Anyway.” Vox. May 8, 2019. Basic benefits like paid sick leave are left completely up to employers. Pete’s bold Empowering Workers plan will shift the balance of power back to workers and deliver fair, higher incomes.
Pete will codify and strictly enforce simple tests to prevent workers from being denied minimum wage, overtime, and anti-discrimination protections—and their ability to unionize.
Pete will double union membership by imposing the strongest union protections ever, including equal-speech rights in union elections, multimillion-dollar penalties to employers that interfere with union elections, and an end to so-called “right-to-work” laws.
Pete will enable multi-employer bargaining and ensure that gig workers can unionize, expanding union protections and power.
A Buttigieg administration will expand protections for gig workers, farm workers, and domestic workers—all of whom are currently denied protections.
The next generation has always been better off than the previous, but we risk breaking that compact and deepening inequality if we don’t change course fast to make big, innovative, and effective public investments in the next generation and in the economy they will inherit.Leonhardt, David. “The American Dream, Quantified at Last.” New York Times. December 8, 2016. This news article is based on Chetty, Raj, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, and Jimmy Narang. “The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series. December 2016. Powell, John A. “Six policies to reduce economic inequality.” Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. February 9, 2014. The choice between equality and growth is false. We can only achieve better outcomes for middle and working class families with a strategy for economic growth that catalyzes the potential of every person, and every place, in America.
Through new, fair public options that cut costs for working and middle class families, stronger regulatory enforcement that keeps private industry playing by the rules, and smart public investments that kickstart growth, Pete will lead us into a more equitable and prosperous 21st century.
Families across the country need to see higher incomes, lower costs, and a brighter future for our children. If you're with us, text RAISE to 25859.
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