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Amy Traub

The Middle Class Task Force Reports Back

There's little I want to hear more from any political leader than a recognition that:

"Access to good quality jobs, with fair compensation and stable benefits, is a key factor in building a strong middle class... The loss of bargaining power [in the workplace] has been a factor in the stagnation of middle-class earnings and the divergence of wage growth from productivity growth. Restoring the right to pursue collective bargaining would help middle-class workers get their fair share of the gains as the American economy recovers."

That's from the recently released annual report [pdf] of Vice President Joe Biden's Middle Class Task Force. In addition to supporting middle-class jobs, the report outlines the Administration's efforts to help middle-class families balance work and caregiving, increase retirement security, and make college more affordable. Like the Administration's stated support for the Employee Free Choice Act, most policy prescriptions are right on the mark: the nation's current and aspiring middle class would indeed be far better off if we passed the Healthy Families Act (giving all working people access to paid sick days), cracked down on violations of labor law that deny hard-working people the pay and benefits they've earned, and finally put an end to the unconscionable lobbyist stonewalling of commonsense efforts to end wasteful subsidies to student lenders and invest the funds in higher education.

As we've seen in the past year, the political obstacles to actually enacting this vision are formidable. But it's not just the political challenges of the report's recommendations that give me pause. Instead it's a line I omitted from my first quote above:

"Access to good quality jobs, with fair compensation and stable benefits, is a key factor in building a strong middle class. The Administration's most immediate imperative in this regard is to do all we can to jumpstart job creation." [emphasis mine]

The problem? As Harry Moroz concluded in his recent analysis of how the President's 2011 budget would impact the nation's cities, the best-advised and most thoughtfully crafted policies out there are doomed to fall short if economic recovery is stalled and unemployment remains staggeringly high. Yet the President's budget, and the additional job creation proposals Obama has backed, do little to stem continued high unemployment projected by the President's own advisors. In short, the Administration is not doing all it can to jumpstart job creation. The rest of his domestic policy agenda - for cities, the middle class, and the nation as a whole - will suffer as a result.

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Posted at 12:25 PM, Mar 01, 2010 in Middle-class squeeze
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