Labor Day Report – America’s Middle Class Needs Our Help PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Tuesday, 06 September 2011 10:59

As the nation prepares to honor America’s workers this weekend, I wanted to share a report I released today on the decline of America’s middle class and its long-term consequences for our economy.  As you’ll see in the report, the problems plaguing the middle class and the broader economy were not brought on just by this recession, but rather through a series of systematic policy decisions put into place over the past 40 years.  I believe that rebuilding the middle class needs to be the primary focus of the Congress and that it can only be done by reversing these policy choices.

All the talk in Washington about deficits and spending cuts ignores one simple truth: there will be no sustainable economic recovery without the recovery of the American middle class.  Without good-paying jobs with reliable benefits, families will continue to fall behind, and the economy will lag as consumers struggle to survive on shrinking budgets.

As Congress finally turns its focus to how to create jobs and rebuild our economy, we must understand that as the middle class goes, so goes our economy.

Today’s report follows a series of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearings I’ve convened to examine the state of the middle class.  We’ve solicited input from economists, the business community, and everyday Americans struggling to maintain a middle class lifestyle.  In Iowa, members of my staff have been visiting all 99 counties to gather testimony and insights into the challenges facing middle class families, and I have followed up by holding forums this August in Newton, Mason City, Cedar Rapids, and Council Bluffs.

To read my report, entitled “Saving the American Dream: The Past, Present, and Uncertain Future of America's Middle Class,” and learn more about my HELP Committee hearings and my forums in Iowa, click here:  http://harkin.senate.gov/help/middleclass.cfm

The report shows that the middle class is facing stagnant wages while household costs continue to rise:

  • Average hourly wages declined by 1% from 1970 to 2009, while home prices have increased 97%, gas prices by 18%, health costs by 50%, and public college by 80% after adjusting both wages and costs for inflation.
  • The average family of four needs an annual income of $68,000/year just to cover basic costs, but in 2010, half of all jobs paid less than $33,840, and 9 of the 10 fastest-growing sectors in the American economy pay less than $35,000/year on average

While there is no silver bullet to repair the damage done to the middle class by 40 years of poor policy choices, I believe there are several steps the federal government should take to create jobs in the short term and restore our middle class and economic vitality in the long term:

  • Help 25 million unemployed and underemployed Americans get good jobs and become taxpayers again by investing in education, innovation, and a national program to rebuild our nation’s schools, highways, bridges, and water infrastructure.
  • Restore balance to the tax code by removing the tax benefits received by the very wealthy and large corporations from the 2001 and 2003 tax bills.
  • Remove the provisions in the tax code that encourage American companies shifting jobs overseas.
  • Raise and index the minimum wage to improve wage standards throughout the economy and ensure working people aren’t left out when our economy grows.
  • Give workers the same rights as corporate CEOs to negotiate their salaries and benefits from a position of strength, not weakness.
  • Update the federal laws governing the pension system so that they can once again provide the basis for a secure retirement.

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