An Economy that Works for Families
I believe in hard work, strong markets, and a strong economy. And I believe that if you work hard, you should be able to support yourself and your family.
I'll tell you something about me. I've been working two jobs for the last three years in order to support my family of four children. It's hard enough to put food on the table, and then, on top of that, my wife and I are trying to prepare for college tuition in just a few years. I know that many of you can relate to this struggle.
I am grateful to my parents for teaching me a strong work ethic. They were Dutch immigrants who came to Michigan for a better life. They were attracted by a strong economy that valued hard work, creativity, and dedication.
But sadly, since then, the economic rules changed. Today’s families and young people don’t seem to have the same shot at a middle class life and economic opportunities that brought my parents here.
I believe that capitalism as an economic system has led to unparalleled innovation and prosperity and that U.S. corporations, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, play a vital role in American society as engines of creativity and innovation. American capitalism has thrived because of a strong public framework that has facilitated growth and innovation: a strong government providing the public creation and support of roads, education, postal service, appropriate corporate regulation and more—these have laid the foundation for our economic system.
I am concerned by what economists tell us that “despite the lowest unemployment rates since the late 1960s, the American economy is failing many of its citizens. Some 90 percent have seen their incomes stagnate or decline in the past 30 years.” And we now have a system where Americans in the top 1% average 40 times more income than those in the bottom 90%. This isn’t right.
Here in Michigan, thanks to the United Way, we have a good understanding of how households are doing in today’s economy. According to the 2019 United Way ALICE Report, 43% of Michigan households cannot afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology – this is despite the fact that unemployment rates are falling and at historically low points. In the 2nd Congressional District, the percent of households who have incomes preventing them from affording their basic needs is significant:
Lake County – 61%
Oceana County – 47%
Mason County – 45%
Muskegon County – 45%
Newaygo County – 45%
Kent County– 37%
Ottawa County – 31%
It is clear that our economy, as strong as it seems at this moment, is not working for everyone.
What we need is an economy with good jobs—jobs that enable people to provide for their families, jobs that allow moms and dads to work one job, not two or even three, as is often the case right now. In Michigan, 61% of all jobs pay less than $20 per hour, and almost 2/3 pay less than $15 per hour. And the problem is not only low wages but also difficulty in finding full-time continuous work. An increase in contract and on-demand jobs is leading to less financial stability.
We need a society that provides equal opportunity to education. We know that Americans with college degrees earn 84% more than those with only high school degrees over their lifetime. Too many young people today cannot pay for the college that would put them on a path to a life where they can thrive as earlier generations have.
I know that not everyone is a good fit for college. That's why we need to lift up the value of all those hard workers who, as they say, take a shower after work instead of before. And that's why we need to take a fresh look at the importance of unions. We must restore the rights of workers so they are empowered to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. As businesses seek new ways to improve productivity and reduce costs, they have increasingly shifted to a contingent workforce and developed more flexible, short-term staffing models that enable them to scale up or down as needed. Workers have borne the brunt of this strategy.
We know that as unions decline, inequality becomes more extreme. Unions help workers by giving them a voice and the power to shape their working lives. I believe that unions are essential to a fair economy and a vibrant democracy.
As a pastor, I’ve been listening to people’s stories for the last 15 years. I am convinced that it’s time to fight for an economy that works for more of us, and I’m ready to work across the aisle to get it done.
Advocate for policies and incentives that lead to new family-wage jobs and address the problem of wage stagnation.
Reduce barriers to employment, including lack of job skills, family care responsibilities, physical and mental health problems, and lack of reliable transportation. This requires making quality health care affordable and accessible.
Invest in pathways to good jobs, including making higher education more affordable and technical training more accessible.
Ensure that the minimum wage is a living wage, to be raised in stages. We also need to index the federal minimum wage to median wage growth so that moving forward, both workers and employers know with certainty what it will be in the years to come.
Advocate for policies that give all kinds of workers more rights and a stronger voice to create conditions that work for their families.