The middle class is dying. That is the inevitable conclusion from new numbers showing that the median American household has lost one third of its value…over the past ten years. Now I know that you are constantly being assaulted by attention grabbing headlines, political outrage and supposed game changing news items but this is a number that ought to shock us. Ought to keep us up at night. The median household net worth has gone from $88,000 to $56,000 thousand in just 10 years.
So what are we going to do America? Congress is screwed. This is literally, objectively, the worst Congress ever… at least in terms of passing stuff. And most big companies have long ago ditched Henry Ford’s vision of paying workers enough to buy the consumer goods they produce and have instead adopted a vision of get yours while the getting’s good.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good eggs out there. Costco and…uh…the Gap sort of…and you know Costco’s really great.
But what if I told you that the largest creator of low wage jobs believes in the central, vital importance of labor rights. Wants the minimum wage to be kicked up to $10.10. Sees the big picture and knows how inequality undermines our democracy and our society? That person could have a HUGE impact right?
Well, that person is Barack Obama. And he *Could* have a massive game-changing impact. As it turns out, the largest creator of low-wage jobs isn’t Walmart or Target, it’s the Federal Government…it’s us taxpayers spending our money on employers who pay their employees poorly, illegally steal their wages, and keep them from organizing to advocate for better conditions. Yeah, we built that.
And in fact President Obama has taken some encouraging steps to use his power as head of the executive to improve the lives of the workers we employ specifically by lifting their wages to $10.10 an hour and more recently by banning discrimination against gays. But there’s much more that could be done and not just among federal contractors but among all employers in what Demos calls the federally supported workforce, those firms that get 10% or more of their profit from us taxpayers.
What could we do? Well, it’s a pretty simple concept actually. We should with our have a preference for those companies that treat their people well, pay them decent wages, allow them to organize, pay their executives non-outrageous sums, and don’t illegally steal their worker’s wages. The President, using his much touted power of the pen, could sign an executive order mandating that all agencies use such a preference when making their purchasing decisions. That’s it. No congress required. But the lives of 8 million workers…21 million folks when you include their family members would be better for it.
Workers striking today in DC are demanding exactly that. Asking this President who has focused so intently on income inequality to do everything he can with his executive power to address the problem. And if he did so, he would be following historical precedent.
Executive orders have long been used to lead the charge on civil change from FDR establishing collective bargaining requirements for federal contracts to LBJ enshrining affirmative action in federal contracting to lift women and minorities into the professional classes. Pundits are always vaguely imploring the President to be a leader. As if that nebulous word would fix all our problems. But here’s an area, a specific area, where the president could bypass congress and be a leader. It means a lot to the country and it means everything to those 21 million people who are tired of watching their middle class dreams die.