There is a lot of talk about the need to create jobs. But what Idahoans need is not just any old job. Workers need jobs with good wages and benefits that allow them to meet their basic financial needs.
Unfortunately those kind of jobs have been getting harder and harder to find. This is particularly severe in states like Idaho who suffer a jobs gap, meaning that decades of starving vital social and public programs have left us with a work force unqualified for the jobs available, which has led Idaho corporations to employ workers from outside the state. Workers pay has been virtually flat for 30 years and most of the jobs being created in this economy are low-wage, part-time or dont have the health benefits or flexibility families need. That is also true of most of the jobs that will be created over the next decade, which are in occupations like retail and home health care.
Some might think the jobs being created in todays economy are being shaped by some kind of invisible hand and that there is little we can do to change that. But a strong middle class doesnt happen by accident. We will rebuild the economy with the decisions we make together, guided by our shared values as Americans. Together we can create and protect jobs that pay enough so that people can spend money at local businesses and help the economy recover and grow.
Last month, Idahos congressional members met with Idahoans to lay out their plan for the future, aligned with the Paul Ryan budget and House and Senate GOP members calling for a cuts-only approach and extended tax breaks for the largest corporations in America. But there is an alternate approach to continuing with the trickle-down economic plan that has placed us squarely where we are today.
More than a dozen of the leading national organizations, including United Action for Idaho, that research the economy, advocate for good jobs and represent workers have come together to propose 10 steps to build the middle class, the engine of our economy. These groups deep understanding of the economy and the experience of American workers make this list as good a guide as there is for lawmakers looking for a roadmap to economic recovery after the dust settles from the election.
After the dust settles from the election, this new guide is something every lawmaker should take seriously as we continue to rebuild the economy. Heres a quick overview of the 10 steps: (www.nelp.org/10WaysToRebuildMiddleClass)
1. MAKE EVERY JOB A GOOD JOB.
2. FIX THE MINIMUM WAGE.
3. SAVE GOOD PUBLIC AND PRIVATE JOBS.
4. ENSURE HEALTH AND RETIREMENT SECURITY.
5. UPHOLD THE FREEDOM TO JOIN A UNION.
6. MAKE THE MODERN WORKPLACE PRO-FAMILY.
7. STOP WAGE THEFT.
8. REQUIRE THAT YOUR BOSS BE YOUR EMPLOYER.
9. GIVE UNEMPLOYED JOB-SEEKERS A REAL, FRESH START.
10. TOUGHEN LAWS PROTECTING WORKER SAFETY AND HEALTH.
Rebuilding the great American middle class in the 21st century will once again require deliberate action by the American people, through our government and by businesses that understand that our mutual long-term prosperity depends on treating workers everywhere with dignity and giving them the means to a decent standard of living. It will mean taking a U-turn from the policies of the past 30 years, which have squeezed workers in the pursuit of short-term profits, slowly hollowing out the middle class on which our long-term prosperity is built.
Adrienne Evans is executive director of United Action for Idaho, based in Boise.