A tale of two studies: poor research leads to poor findings on minimum wage

Seattle’s economy is booming: construction everywhere, crowded streets and transit, housing costs soaring, bustling neighborhood restaurants, and a 2.6% unemployment rate. Much of this growth is driven by high wage-tech jobs and the spillover effect of all those workers eating out, shopping, and paying premium prices.

It’s in this context that Seattle instituted its higher minimum wage ordinance in 2015. In the past week, two studies have come out with very different conclusions on the impacts of those wage increases on low wage work – one says it’s positive, and the other negative. But the two studies are not created equal.

The first study, led by Michael Reich and Sylvia Allegretto based at the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that the 2015 and 2016 increases to $11 and $13 an hour had the intended effects of raising incomes for low-wage workers without having discernible impact on the number of jobs. These findings are consistent with the bulk of economic studies of minimum wage increases over the past couple of decades.

In the second, a University of Washington team concluded that the 2016 wage increase reduced the number of low-wage jobs by 9% and actually lowered the incomes of low-wage workers. This diverges from the majority of economic research. Across the U.S., city, state, and federal governments have changed minimum wages dozens of times over the past two decades. Multiple economists from across the ideological spectrum have studied these changes, and even opponents of minimum wage increases have not found impacts anywhere near the scale of the UW team.

The UW’s counter-intuitive findings underscore several methodological flaws:

  • They limit their study only to single-site establishments, because their data could not distinguish whether employees of multi-site chains – think Molly Moon’s, Mud Bay, Mod Pizza, Starbucks – actually worked inside or outside the city limits. That leaves 40% of workers excluded from their study. It also means that leaving a job at small business for a job at a larger company counts incorrectly as a job loss.
  • The UW team created a control by comparing Seattle’s employment statistics with other parts of the state. But there is no place in Washington that has a similar economy to Seattle. Seattle has an economy more like San Francisco or New York than Everett or Spokane. The Berkeley team used the more accepted methodology of generating a control from similar areas across the country, rather than just the state. Moreover, the Berkeley team compared numbers for the previous 5 years, while the UW only looked at the previous 9 months.
  • The UW study focused on jobs paying $19 an hour or less, making the assumption that fewer jobs in this bracket meant lost opportunity for workers who used to be in this pay range. But what we’re seeing in Seattle is that jobs that used to pay $18 an hour now pay $20 due to competition for employees. In the UW study, this was unaccounted for and incorrectly counted as job loss.

The quality of a study hinges on the quality of its methods. But the UW study was too myopic in its lens. It eschewed all of the hallmarks of good science – including all the data, equivalent control group, breadth of time. There’s a reason its findings go against what the vast majority of previous studies found: the UW study isn’t as academically rigorous.

If something seems too bad to be true, it probably is.

Originally published at EOIOnline

Every Job a Path to Opportunity

Washington state has gained jobs at a faster rate than most other states since the Great Recession, but the majority of working families are not benefitting from the economic boom. While high tech companies are attracting thousands of newcomers with promises of high compensation, pay for the typical worker is not keeping up with rising costs. Many of the job openings across the state over the next five years will be in occupations that now pay less than $14.00 an hour – too little for even a single adult working full time to cover the basics in much of the state. Meanwhile, costs for childcare, college tuition, healthcare, and housing continue to escalate.

Growing economic inequality compounds racial and gender inequities, constricts pathways of opportunity, and deepens divisions in our society and democracy. We all lose, with less innovation, economic vibrancy, and cultural richness because so many are denied the chance to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our elected leaders make the rules for our economy. At the state level, we can also change laws directly through initiatives. That means our votes – for President, Congress, Governor, state Legislature, and on initiatives – ultimately decide who wins and who loses economically. Together, we can change economic policies so that every job provides a pathway to opportunity and supports a thriving economy.

Growing Inequality and the Squeeze on Working Families

From the 1930s until 1980, income inequality shrank in the United States, thanks to the New Deal and later policies that instituted a minimum wage, supported labor unions, reduced many forms of overt discrimination, opened college access, invested in infrastructure and scientific research, and created programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Through this period, standards of living and access to opportunity improved for nearly everyone up and down the economic ladder. Shifts in policy since the 1980s, in contrast, have allowed the rich to grow fabulously wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

These trends have played out in Washington state, too. Since 1981, the bottom 90% have lost a significant share of income, while the top 1% have more than doubled their share and the rest of the top 10% has gained a little. Since the official recovery from the Great Recession began in 2009, average incomes of the top 1% in Washington have increased by 21.6%, but average incomes for everyone else continued to fall through 2011 and remain a little below the 2009 level.[i]

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Prior to 1973, wages for the typical U.S. worker increased at the same pace as gains in productivity. Between 1973 and 2014, in contrast, wages rose only 9% despite a 72% increase in worker productivity.[ii] CEOs and other top executives took the lion’s share of that increase. By 2015, CEOs at S&P 500 companies were paid 335 times more than the typical production or nonsupervisory employee. That ratio was just 34 to 1 in 1980.[iii] CEOs of public companies in the Northwest enjoyed a 34% pay boost in 2015 alone, to a median annual compensation of $2.1 million.[iv]

Wealth – that is assets such as home equity, other property, and savings, minus debts – is even more highly skewed than annual income. The top 10% of households own three quarters of all wealth in the U.S., while the bottom half own just 1%.[v] White households have far more wealth than households of color.[vi]

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Between 2010 and 2014, median income for Washington households rose only about $1,000, from $60,306 to $61,366, once adjusted for inflation. During that same period, real earnings for the typical worker actually declined, by $1,700 annually for men working full-time and more than $1,200 for women.[vii]

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The gender and racial gap in earnings also remains large, undermining family economic security and community prosperity.[viii] While many factors are involved in these wage gaps, multiple studies have documented persistent biases among managers that result in women of all races and men of color being less likely to be hired or promoted, and offered lower starting wages when they do get a job than their white male counterparts.[ix]

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Along with cash salary and wages, workplace benefits make a big difference in financial security and the ability of working people to keep themselves healthy and care for their families. For the most part, access to benefits, including retirement plans, high quality health insurance, and paid leave, remains highly correlated with wages. In the U.S., the highest paid workers usually also get both paid sick leave and vacation, while only 22% of the lowest paid workers are provided paid sick leave by employers.[x] That means the workers who can least afford time off without pay are forced to choose between loosing income needed to cover the basics or going to work when they are sick or have an ill child.

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A separate family leave benefit is rare – except for the most privileged workers – outside of the four states with statewide disability and family leave insurance programs.[xi] While about half of first-time mothers who work during pregnancy get some paid leave, most are forced to cobble together too-short maternity leaves from saved up sick leave and vacation and as much unpaid time off as the family can afford.[xii] A recent study found that one in four U.S. women go back to work within two weeks of childbirth.[xiii]

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The combination of women’s lower pay and lack of paid leave seriously undermines family economic security. Women who have had a baby in the past twelve months are considerably more likely to be poor or low income than those who have not had a baby. In Washington, more than one in three married women and two-thirds of unmarried women who gave birth in the past year have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. Altogether 19.3% of Washington children under the age of 5 live in poverty, with profound lasting negative effects on young children’s social, emotional, and physical health, including interfering with brain growth and development.[xiv]

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While wages for most workers stagnate, basic family costs continue to rise. The cost of purchasing a home has increased faster in Washington in the past year than in any other state.[xv] Rents are also rising – the average listing price for a two bedroom apartment in June 2016 was $1,574 in Washington and $2,442 in Seattle.[xvi] Washington now ranks 6th in the nation for least-affordable infant care costs.[xvii] Average cost for infant care in Washington consumed 29% to 38% of median state earnings in 2014. In King County, with both higher median earnings and higher costs, the percentages are similar.[xviii] Center-based infant care in Washington now costs more than annual tuition and fees at the University of Washington, despite that fact that childcare teachers are paid extremely low wages.[xix]

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Washington’s current minimum wage of $9.47 is not enough for a single adult working full-time to meet basic expenses of housing, food, transportation, health care, and other necessities in any part of the state. Median earnings for women who work full-time year-round in the state are not enough for a single mother to support one child – and 21% of Washington children live with a single mother.[xx]

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Making Every Job a Pathway to Opportunity

Our modern economy is enormously complex and requires the skills and contributions of millions of people to function. The occupations projected to have the most job openings in Washington over the next five years include computer-related and business jobs that usually come with high pay and full benefit packages, and family-wage jobs in construction and healthcare. However, the top 25 list also includes tens of thousands of positions in fast food, restaurants, retail sales, personal care, and office administration, where current wages are barely enough to support a single person, let alone a family.[xxi]

Public policy choices over the past four decades have allowed a wealthy few to acquire most of the fruits of economic growth. We can change policy choices to ensure that every job provides a living wage and every worker receives a fair share of the wealth they help create. Fortunately, we have proven models that we know succeed not only in boosting wages and family economic security, but also in diminishing the gender and racial inequities that now constrain opportunity.

1. Raise the floor with a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave as a basic workplace standard.

In 1998, Washington voters approved an initiative making Washington the first state to institute an automatic cost of living increase on the minimum wage. Sixteen other states have followed suit. Currently 30 states have minimum wages above the federal level and seven have a minimum wage higher than Washington’s. Seattle, Tacoma, and Sea-Tac are among the 25 local jurisdiction across the country that have higher minimum wages than their states.[xxii]

More recently, close to 30 cities (including Seattle, Tacoma, Sea-Tac, and Spokane) and 5 states (California, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont) have enacted paid sick leave standards, ensuring workers have the opportunity to earn paid leave so they can stay home when sick, rather than spread their germs, deal with the health needs of their families, or seek safety from domestic violence or sexual assault.[xxiii]

Because so many states and localities have raised their minimum wages at different times, we have a significant body of data on the impacts. The bulk of research shows that raising the minimum wage increases income for low wage workers – who are disproportionately women and people of color of all ages – and their families. It also reduces turnover, which increases productivity and reduces costs for employers, a significant factor in explaining how employers are able to pay higher wages with no discernible change in employment numbers and minimal impact on prices and profits.[xxiv] The results from enacting paid sick leave laws have been similar.[xxv]

Initiate 1433, if approved by voters in November 2016, will  ensure that all workers everywhere in the state are able to earn at least one hour of paid sick and safe leave for every 40 hours they work and raise Washington’s minimum wage in four steps to $13.50 in 2020.[xxvi]

2. Establish a statewide paid family and medical leave program.

A few times in their careers, people need to take longer leaves from work – when they have a new child, are diagnosed with cancer, or a parent has a stroke. Five U.S. states (California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii) have long-established temporary disability insurance systems that provide all workers with wage replacement when illness, injury, or recent childbirth prevent them from working. All but Hawaii have added a family leave component that allows all new parents time to bond with a new child and workers to care for critically ill family members. The programs are funded through payroll contributions from employees and employers, varying by state.

Public health researchers have concluded that establishing paid parental leave for all new parents is key to reducing infant mortality – currently higher in the U.S. than in any other economically developed country – and to overcoming health disparities by income and race in the U.S. A significant portion of the determinants of a child’s lifelong health is established by the age of two.[xxvii]

In the states that have paid family and disability leave programs for all workers, new mothers and babies are healthier, women are more likely to be back at work and making higher pay a year following childbirth, and new parents are less likely to go onto public assistance than in the states without programs. Fathers also take longer leaves, which boosts both the child’s long term social and intellectual development and the mother’s long-term earning potential.[xxviii] With both the workforce and general population aging, providing temporary disability leave and leave for family care is also vital to maintain the health and improve the quality of life for older adults.

Washington’s came close to establishing a paid family and medical leave program in 2007, but the legislature balked at approving a payroll premium, and the Great Recession and attendant state budget crisis diverted attention. In 2015, Washington was one of several states to win a research grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes a public opinion poll, cost modeling of policy options, and analysis of the likely impact of a Washington paid family leave program on public assistance usage by new parents. The Work and Family Coalition and policy makers are using the results to develop a new proposal for a state family and medical leave insurance program. Passage should be a top legislative priority in 2017.

3. Update tools for achieving equal pay and job opportunities

Discrimination in pay and employment on the basis of gender or race has been illegal for decades, yet the gender and racial wage gaps are shrinking only slowly. Workers must now prove that their employer intended to discriminate, and wage secrecy practices that prevail in the private sector prevent people from knowing what others doing similar work are paid.

Many states have already passed laws that protect workers’ rights to discuss compensation with their coworkers and changing the burden of proof to require employers to show legitimate job-related reasons for differentials in pay.  Massachusetts’ new equal pay law also prohibits the practice of employers asking for previous salary history.[xxix] Washington can adopt similar laws and go farther to protect all workers by requiring that employers justify access to more highly paid job categories and promotions, along with differences in pay, with job-related reasons.

Providing for strong enforcement of existing anti-discrimination and wage theft laws, removing barriers to employment following incarceration, fair scheduling, and adopting immigration reform that regularizes the status of undocumented workers would also reduce the wage gap and help raise wages for all workers.[xxx]

Conclusion

Growing income inequality is not natural or inevitable. It is the result of past public policy choices. The voters in Washington state have the ability to begin reshaping the rules of our economy so that every job provides a pathway to opportunity and helps build prosperous and thriving communities for us all.

Notes

[i]     Estelle SommeillerMark Price, and Ellis Wazeter, “Income inequality in the U.S. by state, metropolitan area, and county,” Economic Policy Institute, June 16, 2016, http://www.epi.org/publication/income-inequality-in-the-us/.

[ii]     Economic Policy Institute, The Productivity-Pay Gap, Sept 2015, http://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/.

[iii]    AFL-CIO, Executive paywatch, viewed Jun 20, 2016, http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2016.

[iv]    Seattle Times, “NW CEOs enjoyed hefty increase in 2015 pay, outpacing national peers,” updated June 20, 2016, http://www.seattletimes.com/business/nw-ceos-enjoyed-hefty-increase-in-2015-pay-outpacing-national-peers/.

[v]     Linda Levine, “An Analysis of the Distribution of Wealth Across Households, 1989-2010”, 2012, Congressional Research Service, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33433.pdf.

[vi]    U.S. Census Bureau, Detailed tables on wealth and asset ownership, 2011.

[vii]   U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2014, Comparative Economic Characteristics.

[viii]   For discussion of the gender wage gap, see Marilyn Watkins and Sam Hatzenbeler, “Equal Pay and Opportunity: A step toward fair wages for women and better workplaces for all,” Economic Opportunity Institute, April 2016, http://www.eoionline.org/state-economy/women-in-the-workforce/equal-pay-and-opportunity/.

[ix]    S. Correll, S. Benard, I. Paik, “Getting a Job: Is there a Motherhood Penalty?” American Journal of Sociology, 2007, 112(5):1297–339, http://gender.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/motherhoodpenalty.pdf; Hoobler, et al, “Bosses’ Perceptions of Family-Work Conflict and Women’s Promotability: Glass Ceiling Effects,” The Academy of Management Journal, vol. 52, no. 5, October 2009, cited in Strategy-Business, “Gender Inequality: How False Perceptions Affect Promotions,” http://www.strategy-business.com/article/re00069?gko=b8a0d; Pager, D. and Western, B. (2012), Identifying Discrimination at Work: The Use of Field Experiments. Journal of Social Issues, 68: 221–237, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2012.01746.x/abstract.

[x]     U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits Survey 2015, Table 32, http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2015/ownership/private/table32a.pdf.

[xi]    See Watkins, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: A Cornerstone of Equity and Opportunity for Workers and Families,” May 2016, Economic Opportunity Institute, http://www.eoionline.org/work-family/paid-family-and-medical-leave/.

[xii]   U.S. Census Bureau, “Detailed Leave Arrangements Used by Women Who Worked During Pregnancy Preceding First Birth: 2006–2008,” 2011, https://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-128.pdf.

[xiii]   In These Times, “The Real War on Families, Aug 18, 2015, http://inthesetimes.com/article/18151/the-real-war-on-families.

[xiv]   EOI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey data, 2014; Elizabeth Sowell, et al, “Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents,” Nature Neuroscience 18, 773–778 (2015) published online Mrch 30, 2015, http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v18/n5/full/nn.3983.html.

[xv]   Seattle Times, “Home prices rising faster in Washington than in any other state,” June 22, 2016, http://www.seattletimes.com/business/home-prices-rising-faster-in-washington-than-in-any-other-state/.

[xvi]   Myapartmentmap.com, website viewed Jun 20, 2016, http://www.myapartmentmap.com/apartments/wa/#data.

[xvii] Child Care Aware of Washington, “WASHINGTON’S CHILD CARE COSTS ARE AMONG THE HIGHEST IN THE NATION, ACCORDING TO CHILD CARE AWARE OF AMERICA’S ANNUAL HIGH COST OF CHILD CARE REPORT,” press release December 2015, http://wa.childcareaware.org/news/2015-high-cost-of-child-care-press-release.

[xviii] Economic Opportunity Institute analysis of Child Care Aware of Washington and U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2014 data.

[xix]   University of Washington, Total Cost of Attendance, webpage visited June 20, 2016, https://admit.washington.edu/Paying/Cost#freshmen-transfer.

[xx]   Basic expenses from Economic Policy Institute, Family Budget Calculator 2015; median earnings and percentage of children living with single mother from U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2014.

[xxi]   Washington Employment Security Department, Employment Projections, https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/reports-publications/industry-reports/employment-projections; and “Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,” https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/reports-publications/occupational-reports/occupational-employment-and-wage-estimates.

[xxii] Economic Policy Institute, Minimum Wage Tracker, viewed Jun 20, 2016, http://www.epi.org/minimum-wage-tracker/#/min_wage/.

[xxiii] Family Values @ Work, Timeline of Wins, http://familyvaluesatwork.org/media-center/paid-sick-days-wins.

[xxiv] Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, and Annette Bernhardt, “Local Minimum Wage Laws: Impacts on Workers, Families and Businesses,” Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, March 2014, http://irle.berkeley.edu/workingpapers/104-14.pdfMichael Reich, Sylvia A. Allegretto, Ken Jacobs and Claire Montialoux, “The Effects of a $15 Minimum Wage in New York State,” March 10, 2016, Center for Labor Research and Education, University of California, Berkeley, http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/the-effects-of-a-15-minimum-wage-in-new-york-state/; John Schmitt, “Why does the minimum wage have no discernible effect on employment?” Feb 2013, Center for Economic and Policy Research, http://cepr.net/documents/publications/min-wage-2013-02.pdf.

[xxv] Marilyn Watkins, “Local Results of Paid Sick Days Laws,” Jan. 2016, Economic Opportunity Institute, http://www.eoionline.org/work-family/paid-sick-days/local-results-of-paid-sick-days-laws/.

[xxvi] Raise Up Washington, http://www.raiseupwa.com/.

[xxvii]           Adam Burle and Stephen Bezruchka, “Population Health and Paid Parental Leave: What the United States Can Learn from Two Decades of Research,” Healthcare 2016, 4(2), http://www.mdpi.com/2227-9032/4/2/30.

[xxviii]          Linda Houser and Thomas P. Vartanian, “Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses and the Public,” Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2012, http://cww.rutgers.edu/sites/cww.rutgers.edu/files/documents/working_families/CWW_Paid_Leave_Brief_Jan_2012_0.pdf.; Maya Rossin-Slater, Christopher J. Ruhm, Jane Waldfogel, “The Effects of California’s Paid Family Leave Program on Mothers’ Leave-Taking and Subsequent Labor Market Outcomes,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 17715, December 2011, http://www.nber.org/papers/w17715.

[xxix]    The Atlantic, “A Step Toward Equal Pay for Men and Women,” August 2, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/gender-wage-gap-massachusetts/494045/.

[xxx] Lawrence Mishel, “Raise America’s Pay,” testimony before the Democratic National Convention Platform Drafting Hearing on June 9, 2016, http://www.epi.org/publication/testimony-raise-americas-pay/.
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Originally published at EOI Online

Raising wages statewide is a job for We The People

Over the next couple weeks, young people across the region will be graduating with new degrees and high hopes for the future. They are competing for jobs in an economy where the contrast between the the haves and have nots is stark.

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The occupations projected to have the most job openings in King County and statewide over the next five years include computer-related and business jobs that usually come with high pay and full benefit packages. But the top ten list also includes positions in fast food, restaurants, retail sales, and office administration, where current wages are barely enough to support a single person, let alone a family, even outside the greater Seattle area.

Not everyone can or should end up a software engineer. We need people working in restaurants, groceries, childcare, health care, and social work, too. And those jobs should not trap tens of thousands of workers and their children in poverty and constant struggle.

By enacting paid sick days and a higher minimum wage, Seattle has started on the right path toward ensuring every job provides a pathway to opportunity and supports a thriving economy. But not every job is in Seattle. Statewide progress on these same policies hasstalled year after year in our divided State Legislature.

The Raise Up Washington campaign is now collecting signatures to qualify Initiative 1433 for the November ballot. I-1433 will raise Washington’s minimum wage from the current $9.47 to $11.00 starting in January 2017, then raise it in three further steps to $13.50 in 2020, with cost of living increases after that. Importantly, it also sets a minimum standard for paid sick leave, assuring that all workers across the state are able to earn at least an hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

For people now working at or near minimum wage in Renton, Southcenter Mall, or Yakima, that means an immediate pay increase of $250 a month, and an increase of $650 in monthly income by 2020. That money will get spent right in local communities. The initiative also means that a million people who don’t have sick leave now – many of them working in restaurants, retail, and other direct service occupations – will have the ability to stay home when sick or with a sick child without losing their paycheck.

We know from studying dozens of minimum wage increases and sick leave laws across the country that these policies succeed in boosting incomes for low wage workers, decreasing employee turnover, and allowing businesses of all sizes to continue to prosper.

Over the past few decades across the U.S., wealth has piled up for the top 1%. The top 10% has also done pretty well, but incomes for most working people have stagnated or even fallen. Here in Washington between 2010 and 2014, during the so-called economic recovery, the annual wages for full-time workers in the middle of the earnings spectrum actually fell by 3% after inflation, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, costs for childcare, college tuition, healthcare, and housing continue to escalate.

Growing economic inequality compounds racial and gender inequities and deepens divisions in our society and democracy. We all lose – with less innovation, economic vibrancy, and cultural richness – when so many are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We the people make the rules for our economy. Usually it’s through our votes for President, Congress, Governor, and state Legislature. With the contrasts in ideology and policy positions up and down the ticket so stark, those votes will matter more than ever this fall.

The initiative process also lets us act directly. I-1433 won’t reverse decades of economic policies that have driven growing income inequality, but it’s a step toward making our state economy work better for everyone.

We don’t have to wait until November to act. The Raise Up Washington campaign needs to collect 246,000 valid signatures from registered Washington voters by the beginning of July to qualify for the November ballot.

You can help right now by signing yourself, registering to vote if you haven’t already, and volunteering for the campaign.

Originally published in the South Seattle Emerald.

The stalemate over Washington state’s budget

The stalemate in Olympia over Washington state’s budget represents an ideological divide that won’t be overcome by negotiators sitting long enough in a room together. And unfortunately, neither side has proposed a budget and revenue package that would actually fully fund the educational opportunity and services families need in today’s economy.

Republicans who control the Senate are sticking to the anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric that plays well with their base. They insist we can increase spending on schools, cut university tuition, move money from the General Fund to transportation, and hand out more business tax breaks without raising taxes anywhere else. To get there, they void the class-size reduction initiative voters passed last November, assume a big increase in consumption of marijuana, shuffle funds around, throw in savings from unspecified “efficiencies,” and continue to skimp on compensation for teachers and state workers – who’ve already gone seven years without state-funded cost of living increases.

Democrats who control the House are saying we must enhance basic services such as early learning, K-12 education, mental health services, and child protection – and it’s time for the wealthy and big corporations who are profiting from economic growth to come closer to paying their fair share. They’ve proposed raising additional revenue from a capital gains tax on investment income that would fall exclusively on the wealthiest individuals in the state, closing some special tax breaks, and restoring selected business tax rates to the level paid two years ago.

But the Democrats’ budget also overturns the voters’ mandate on class size reduction and still leaves the state a long way from being able to fully fund what the legislature and the State Supreme Court have defined as basic education.

In fact, neither legislative leaders nor the Governor have proposed reforms for truly fair taxes or enough new revenue to fully fund public education and other essential structures and services our children, families, and workers need in today’s evolving economy.

Most of our state revenue comes from the sales tax and a gross receipts business tax that fall hardest on working families and small businesses. But we’re a long way from the 1930s when the system was designed and when taxing consumption of stuff brought in enough to educate most kids for jobs on farms, lumber yards, and factories.

Today – in an era of globalization, services, rapidly changing technology, and soaring inequality – an income tax has to be part of any fair or sufficient system.

Washington’s tax structure is the most unfair in the country, with low and moderate income families paying much more proportionately than the wealthy. Yet voters have been so skeptical of an income tax, that legislators are afraid to even talk about modernizing the system.

State Treasurer Jim McIntire recently proposed a new tax structure, including an income tax, reduced sales tax, and revamped business taxes. In contrast to the current system, under his proposal we’d have enough to fully fund at least K-12 education for the foreseeable future. But because it relies on a flat rather than progressive income tax and reduces sales taxes only a little, it still leaves lower income families paying more than their fair share – and the rich paying less.

Regardless of its merits, McIntire’s proposal is being entirely ignored by the people charged with negotiating our state budget, just as the recommendations of the state’s Tax Structure Study Committee were thirteen years ago.

Without a new budget, the state won’t have authority to pay the bills come July 1. Two years ago, the legislature waited until layoff notices had already been issued to most state employees to break the ideological logjam and send a new budget to the Governor’s desk.

Teachers across the state have taken to the streets in a series of one day rolling strikes, to try to put some pressure on legislators to act. On May 20th, many state employees used their lunch break to rally. It’s time for the rest of us to step up, too. Let’s assure our elected representatives that we’re willing to pay our share of the bills to educate our kids and keep our communities strong – but we’d like the wealthy and profitable corporations to pay their fair share, too.

Via South Seattle Emerald

Four solutions for Washington state’s budget dilemma

Adopting a budget will be the main task of Washington’s legislature in 2015. The state’s elected leaders face a big challenge. Income inequality is constricting family budgets and the whole economy, here in Washington and nationwide. Washington also has an outdated tax system that no longer fits our economy.

As a result, public revenues from sales and business taxes are growing a lot more slowly than the costs of educating our kids and providing basic services and infrastructure. To pass a state budget that provides a solid platform for thriving families and broadly shared prosperity, our legislature must raise progressive new sources of revenue and approve new policies to tackle inequality.

Washington’s economy needs a stronger foundation

Our state budget sets the foundation on which our economy and state residents can thrive. But the combination of recession, growing income inequality, and an outdated and inflexible tax system is undercutting that foundation.

  • Washington has the 4th highest number of kids per teacher among all the states, and ranks 42nd in our level of investment in K-12 education.
  • The share of state funding for higher education has fallen steadily for two decades, and plummeted with the recession. Among all states, Washington had the 9th highest tuition hikes between 2008 and 2012.
  • Early learning, mental health services, child protection, senior health, state parks, and other key services have been underfunded through the recession.

Over the past 20 years, Washington’s budget has declined as a percentage of the state’s economy. If revenues came in today at the rate they did in the year 2000, Washington would have an additional $3 billion each year to invest in education and other priorities. Many economists agree that cutbacks in government spending have prolonged the recession.

WA Budget Overview 2015 - chart 1

Improving services for an opportunity economy?

Washington is projected to collect about $2.7 billion more in 2015-17 than in the 2013-15 biennium – enough to cover the growing population of school kids and others, but no improvement in services. However, both the voters and the courts have told the legislature that services must improve.

In November 2014, Washington voters passed Initiative 1351 to lower class sizes in all grades. That requires more teachers, more class rooms – and more money. In the McCleary decision, the Supreme Court said the legislature must invest enough to insure that all kids have access to an education that will fully prepare them for life in the 21st century. Together those come to about $4 billion in added costs for 2015-17.

We also must invest more in early learning and higher education if we want to help all kids achieve their potential. Then there’s everything else the state does, like protect mentally ill people, children, and seniors. Most state services were cut to the bone during the Great Recession and also need more funding to protect public health and safety.

Income inequality and a flawed tax structure

Most other states modernized their tax systems years ago with a state income tax, so they can reap some benefit from the skyrocketing wealth of the 1% and plow those resources back into early learning, small class sizes, and affordable college educations. But Washington still relies on a 1930’s-style system based on the sales tax. As a result, we have the most regressive tax structure in the nation, with low and moderate income households and small businesses paying too much, and the wealthiest individuals and corporations paying relatively little.

Sales tax revenues are growing more slowly than Washington’s population and economy for two main reasons. One is that people now spend more of their income than in earlier years on things that aren’t taxed: either services, such as health care and education, or on goods purchased over the internet, where sales tax collection is spotty. The other reason is the growing concentration of wealth among the top 1 or 2%, while incomes stagnate for the majority. Wealthy people simply cannot spend all their income.

WA Budget Overview 2015 - chart 4

Solutions for Washington’s budget dilemma

1. Progressive new revenues: Governor Inslee has proposed two new revenue sources for the state that will begin to address the fundamental shortcomings of our tax system. One is a 7% tax on capital gains from selling stocks and bonds. Retirement accounts and the first $25,000 would be exempt, so only the wealthiest would pay. The other is a new carbon tax that would be paid by the largest corporate polluters in the state. It would provide new money for education and transportation projects, while reducing pollution and slowing climate change.

2. Ending tax breaks: Washington’s tax code is full of special preferences for industries ranging from aerospace manufacturing to agriculture. Governor Inslee proposed ending a few tax breaks in his draft budget, but also added some new ones, including for high tech companies. A much more rigorous evaluation is necessary of which tax breaks actually create jobs and middle class consumers rather than merely padding shareholder profits and adding to the problems caused by income inequality.

3. Tackling systemic tax reform: Ultimately to provide educational opportunity for all in our state, while protecting public health and safety and establishing the foundations for thriving communities, Washington will have to modernize its whole tax structure. Over a decade ago, a bipartisan Tax Structure Study Committee recommended adopting a personal income tax, lowering the sales tax, and reforming business taxes to make the system less regressive, more stable, and better able to fund essential services.

4. Tackling income inequality: Providing individual opportunity and raising incomes for low and moderate income working families will also help our state’s revenue picture. More money in the pockets of hard working families means more economic activity, more jobs, and more public revenue. The 2015 legislature can help rebalance our economy by:

  • increasing the state minimum wage to $12;
  • passing statewide paid sick and safe leave so workers don’t lose income when they get sick or have a sick child;
  • approving family and medical leave insurance, to provide paid leave for new parents and workers with serious health conditions or seriously ill family members;
  • strengthening equal pay opportunity for women; and
  • fully funding educational reforms from early learning through university.

Excerpted from Washington 2015 Budget Guide: Solutions for building an opportunity economy in the Evergreen State »

Restoring Good Karma

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella created a national uproar when he advised women to rely on “good karma” for a raise. He almost immediately retracted. But if Nadella had instead advised women to ask for raises and urged girls to pursue computer science degrees, that still would have been the wrong answer to the gender wage gap question.

Washington state prohibited discrimination in pay on the basis of sex way back in 1943, when Rosie the Riveters were helping win World War II. At the national level, Congress banned sex discrimination in employment over 50 years ago. Yet the gender wage gap persists in every industry and at every rung of the wage ladder.

Women who worked full-time for the full year in Washington state in 2013 took home 80 cents to every $1.00 a man made, according to the US Census Bureau. Factor in race, and the stats get worse. Nationally, where women overall made 79 cents to a man’s dollar, Black women made 66.5 cents and Latinas 56 cents compared to a White man’s dollar.

Differences in occupation help explain part of the gender pay gap. Here in King County, men held eight out of ten computer and math-related jobs in 2013 and brought home $19,000 more each year than women. Women predominate in occupations such as office administration, health technicians, and personal care services, with much smaller paychecks but still noticeable wage gaps.

While occupational differences are determined partly by employee choices, deeply embedded workplace cultures and employer practices also push women and men into different career paths.

For example, in the typical Puget Sound-area grocery store, nine in ten meat cutters are men while eight in ten meat wrappers are women. Meat cutters, it will come as no surprise, get paid a lot more. Now, those guys in the back room at Safeway aren’t wrestling bulls to the ground and slaughtering them with a hunting knife. Women can achieve the strength and skill required to cut meat and be just as good at is as men.

Even when women do get traditionally “men’s jobs,” many firms prohibit employees from discussing pay, so no one knows if others are getting paid more for similar work.

No matter how many girls take advanced math and science classes, no matter how many women enter non-traditional and higher paying careers, our economy will continue to produce lots of jobs in child care, retail, restaurants, and office administration. So we can’t solve the wage gap by focusing only on high paying careers.

We need a cultural shift to value “women’s work” both in the market economy and caring for family at home.  And cultural shifts don’t happen only through individuals changing their behavior. They also require the push of policy change.

So here is the answer I wish Nadella would now give.

First, he should commit to equal pay for equal work at Microsoft, and lift the veil of wage secrecy within his own company that enables discrimination. Then he should go a step further and pledge Microsoft backing of federal and state Paycheck Fairness acts so that all employees everywhere have the tools to identify and challenge pay discrimination.

Next, he could commit to working with women’s groups and female employees to identify ways to change Microsoft culture to encourage women to seek and stay in tech careers, rather than discouraging them. Beyond that, he could lend support for federal and state legislation that support all workers’ roles as family caregivers, including paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance, and workplace flexibility.

Finally, he could go beyond platitudes about the need for STEM education for girls and children of color, and commit to working with other corporate leaders to change the narrative of austerity that has prevailed for too long in Washington, DC and Olympia. We need ample funding for education, from preschool through university. That means raising federal tax rates on the wealthy, closing state and federal loopholes that allow corporations – including Microsoft –to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and instituting a personal income tax here in Washington state.

If Nadella did all that, he really would create good karma.

Originally posted at at the South Seattle Emerald »

Why Washington state’s tax system continues to fail our kids

failing-kids

The kids are back in school – and last week the Washington Supreme Court gave the State Legislature an “F” for failing to adequately fund public schools across the state.

Meanwhile, a new analysis by Standard & Poor’s concludes that growing income inequality is causing sales tax revenues to fall. According to the highly respected global credit rating firm, the share of income for the top 1% doubled in the U.S. between 1980 and 2011, while the rate of revenue growth for the states fell by half.

The link between rising inequality and declining revenue growth was strongest in the states that depend most heavily on sales tax – including Washington, which is second only to Florida in the degree to which we rely on sales tax. States with progressive income taxes, on the other hand, have by and large been able to maintain state revenues and services as the economy has changed, according to S&P.

Standard & Poor’s report comes as no surprise to anyone who’s studied Washington’s tax system. Washington has the most regressive tax system in the country, with low and moderate income residents paying higher shares of state and local taxes while the wealthiest pay far less than in other states. Small businesses also pay higher rates than big businesses – even before all the tax breaks and (perfectly legal) tax dodging from which some corporations benefit.

For decades, Washington state’s economy, population, and total personal income have grown at much faster rates than sales tax revenue, which provides over half of the state general fund. As a result, we’re failing our kids. We haven’t been able to implement improvements in the K-12 system, we can’t provide all kids who need it with high quality early learning, and we’ve jacked up tuition and limited enrollment in higher education – even as more jobs require a college degree.

Most of us know terrific, inspirational teachers and school staff, and Washington’s school kids consistently outperform all American kids in standardized tests. Yet children of color face a big achievement gap, receive harsher discipline, and are more likely to drop out. Washington has the 4th highest number of kids per teacher among all the states. We’re only in the middle in terms of teachers’ salaries – Georgia and Wyoming pay their teachers better.

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court told the legislature it was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to amply fund K-12 education. The legislature adopted great goals to make quality education accessible to all kids, but failed to come up with a plan to fund it. Now the court has found the legislature in contempt.

While Washington ranks 16th among states in total personal income, we’re in 42nd place in our level of investment in K-12 education. All but one of the states ahead of us have an income tax.

Our current tax system worked well enough in the mid-20th century, but it’s insufficient today. As long as we continue to rely on sales tax for half our general fund revenue, we will fall behind and fail our children. The only way to make our system less regressive and require the people with the most money to pay their fair share is to lower the sales tax and adopt a progressive state income tax.

Even facing a contempt ruling from the Supreme Court, the odds of our state legislature reforming the state revenue system in 2015 are close to zero. Most legislators believe with good reason they’ll be booted out of office if they do. But maybe they could take a step in that direction by ending corporate tax breaks and adopting a capital gains tax –  which by excluding retirement savings and providing a modest exemption would fall almost exclusively on the top 5%.

To get the rest of the way to sufficient, stable funding for the long haul, the legislature could dust off and update the findings of the bipartisan Gates Commission, which over a decade ago recommended restructuring the state tax system. Then in 2016, they could put some real options to fully fund a comprehensive education system before the voters.

Meanwhile, it’s up to us, the people of Washington state, to force a public conversation on what it’s really going to take to fully fund the public services we need for individual opportunity and shared prosperity. Because we’re the ones who are really failing our kids.

Via the South Seattle Emerald

It’s Time: A 3-Step Path to Funding the Education We SHOULD Have

As divided as Americans seem to be about the role of government, we’re pretty united around the notion that quality public education should be accessible to all. Businesses and our economy can’t operate without an educated workforce – and educated customers. Democracy itself depends on citizens who can reason and understand the issues they vote on.

Our state constitution says it is the paramount duty of state government to provide amply for the education of all children in the state. But state funding now doesn’t cover the basics of the K-12 system, let alone the early learning and higher education necessary to assure that all kids are equipped to succeed in the 21st century. Two years ago, the State Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that the state was failing in its constitutional duty.

The problem is not that the average Washington resident is contributing too few tax dollars to adequately support education. It’s that the average Microsoft millionaire, his wealthy neighbors, and corporate shareholders are contributing way too little.

Washington has ambitious goals to increase student achievement, including funding full-day kindergarten, reducing class size, and increasing hours and requirements in high school. Those things all cost money. Last year, the legislature allocated an additional $1 billion to K-12 in the two-year budget . But that was after four years of recession-driven cuts, when school funding got slashed along with everything else. Now the Court has decreed we need to fund school improvements more quickly.

Of course, the real issue isn’t what the court says, it’s our kids. It’s our responsibility as the grownups to provide them with the tools for a promising future.

Governor Inslee has proposed raising more money for K-12 by closing some tax breaks, including those enjoyed by oil companies, the bottled water industry, and out-of-state residents. But closing tax breaks won’t come close to raising enough money. Funding education reform can’t come out of the rest of the state budget either, which was cut to the bone during the recession, and includes the early learning, higher education, and social services that also need to be expanded if we are serious about giving every child real opportunity.

Washington’s problems in funding education began long before the recession and McCleary. Back in 1992, we ranked 17th among the states nationally in per pupil funding. By 2012 we were down to 30th. If we measure level of school support against the personal income of state residents, we’re 44th.

Washington is falling behind because we depend on sales taxes for half our state budget. We tax most heavily the people who have to spend all their income – those who can least afford it. Rich people buy more expensive stuff, but they don’t spend most of their money. On top of that, over the last several decades, our economy has shifted away from the stuff we tax and onto services which we generally don’t tax.

Plus big corporations like Microsoft and Boeing keep demanding more tax breaks at the same time they complain the state isn’t investing enough in education and infrastructure.

Almost every other state has a state income tax that assures that rich people pay their fair share for the benefits of living in a society where they could acquire their wealth and enjoy it.

Until we start requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes, we won’t be able to fund the education system our kids deserve.

Here’s a 3-step path to funding the education we should have by 2018:

  1. 2014 – Pass the Governor’s package of tax break closures.
  2. 2015 – Pass a capital gains tax that excludes primary residences and retirement savings (this means it will mostly be paid by the wealthiest).
  3. 2017 – Pass a progressive state income tax while lowering the sales tax, with the increased revenue devoted to education, from preschool through higher education.

Getting our fractured legislature to agree to even closing tax breaks this year will be tough. Right now most legislators believe that they can’t adequately fund education no matter what the constitution and courts say, because voters won’t support changing our state tax system.

Earlier this month, voters across the region approved a host of local school levies, agreeing again to raise their own taxes to invest more in their community schools. We do want a great education system for all our kids. It’s time to give our legislators the tools to fund it.

Originally published in the Rainier Valley Post

Empowering Women, Building Our Economy – Keynote Address by Marilyn Watkins

It’s great to be here today to celebrate the real progress we have made towards women’s equality. But I suspect many of us are also here today because we recognize how far we still have to go.

When I was girl growing up in 1960s, the expectation for at least white middle class women was that they would have a career as moms, housewives, and volunteers. I grew up in a family with five kids, and can remember my father saying one night at dinner, “If we can’t afford to send all of you to college, then the boys will will be ones to go since they’ll have to support their families” – even though when he was a child, his family depended largely on his mother’s earnings.

Now by the time we actually got to high school and college in the 1970s, my father and mother both strongly encouraged and supported their daughters’ education, and are very proud of our professional achievements.

My father’s attitude change was part of a general shift, a shift that was pushed by the women’s movement for both legal and social change. Now women make up about half of the U.S. workforce and over half of new college graduates. Professional schools are no longer closed to women, and Title IX has opened sports to girls and women.

But we’re still a long ways from equality. We are going to have to push for another level of policy change beyond anti-discrimination in order to take the next big step closer to the time when little girls and little boys grow up with truly equal opportunity.

Let’s look at some statistics:

  • The Wage Gap – Women who work full time, year-round earn 77 cents for every $1.00 earned by men. In the Seattle-Bellevue metropolitan area, we have the worst wage gap in the nation, with women earning just  73 cents to a man’s $1.00.
  • Job segregation –  Eighty percent of computer and math-related jobs in the Seattle metro area are held by men, with median annual earnings of $91,000 for men, and $75,00 for women. On the other hand, 80% of personal care service jobs are held by women, with median earnings of $16,000 for women and $22,000 men.
  • The Glass Ceiling – Men hold 60% of management occupations in the greater Seattle area. And while the typical man in management makes $90,000, the typical woman only makes $60,000.
  • Poverty – We have shockingly high rates of single mothers in poverty. In Washington,  51% of single moms with children under the age of 5 have incomes below the federal poverty level.

The impacts of women’s lower wages are far reaching. Kids in poverty have poorer health and struggle in school.  When women earn less, they have less income in retirement, too. And when women have more income, local businesses have more customers, which means they can hire more people – we get an upwardly spiraling economy that’s good for everybody.

So what’s it going to take?

At a recent forum on gender pay equality, every panelist touted math and science education for girls and teaching women how to negotiate better as the route to overcoming the wage gap. Now I’m all for STEM education and encouraging individuals to think big, pursue their dreams, and ask for what they are worth. But when problems are this big and this pervasive, they are not result of millions of individual failings.

Not everybody can be a software engineer or brain surgeon. We’ll still need childcare teachers, baristas, home care workers, restaurant servers, and store clerks no matter how well educated our population is.

Advances for women – like winning the right to vote, and hold a credit card in their own name, and keep a job after marriage, and participate in school sports – happened only with an organized movement that pushed for changes in law as well as in attitudes.

We will only change the status quo in the work place now with an organized movement for legal change.

Here are some of the policy changes we need in order to make every job a job that empowers rather than impoverishes women:

  • Paid Sick Days. We need to pass paid sick days laws through the Washington state legislature and in Congress, similar to those that have already passed in Seattle, Portland, Connecticut, and other places. Staying home when you have the flu or your child is sick shouldn’t mean the loss of that week’s grocery budget – or your job.
  • Family and Medical Leave Insurance. We need to get family and medical leave insurance up and running here in Washington, like programs that already exist in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.  Having a baby should be a joyous event, not a time of huge financial stress. Those first weeks should be a time when the mom can recover her strength, mother and father both bond with their child, and the baby flourishes. The early months of a baby’s life lay the foundation for all that follows.

Supporting people who are caring for a newborn or recovering from surgery or caring for a parent who’s had a stroke or a spouse with cancer is not only humane, it’s a smart public investment that saves public money on health care, public assistance, and long term care, while building a stronger economy where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

  • Early learning and care. We need quality affordable childcare and preschool – with good wages for teachers – to support working parents and set all children on the path to educational success.
  • Fair pay. And we need paycheck transparency and fair pay in all jobs – not just better negotiating skills.

The good news is we have policy models right here in US for all of these advances, and we have organized coalitions working for change. But to succeed, we will really have to amp up the level of pressure on our public officials – because we can be sure that they are getting lots of pressure from the top 1% to keep the status quo.

This is the 93rd anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the United States. But the Seneca Falls Convention that launched the women’s rights movement in this country was held 72 years before that. Throughout those 72 years, people argued that women didn’t have the intellectual capability of voting or that women didn’t need to vote because they had their fathers and husbands to speak for them, or that women’s suffrage would destroy the family.

It was smaller, local victories along the way that disproved all those arguments and kept the campaign going. Women won the right to vote in school elections, and then in a few western states. We won the vote here in 1910, a decade before the 19th amendment was finally ratified.

Twenty years ago the federal Family and Medical Leave Act passed. It gives workers in big companies the right to take 12 weeks unpaid leave for a new child or serious ill family member, or their own health condition. In the decade long fight for that bill, opponents argued that companies would stop hiring women and that it would destroy profits – but passage was followed by a decade of economic growth and more women than ever in the workforce.

During the campaign for Seattle’s Paid Sick Days bill we heard that businesses would flee the city – but you know what? Business is booming in Seattle.  And some companies, like MOD Pizza and Tutta Bella, decided to offer sick leave to their employees outside the city, too.

The American Constitution talks about forming “a more perfect Union.” We are still trying to get there as a nation. Continuing to fight for an economy that works for women and children and families puts us in good company.

Originally published at EOIOnline.org

Time to Fight for Working Women and the Middle Class

President Obama and Nancy Pelosi have shifted the economic debate in our nation’s capital back onto the right track with a renewed focus on working women and the middle class. The 30-year experiment with supply side economics – including deregulation, cutting taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, and slashing public investments –  has been great for the super rich, but not so good for all the rest of us. Rebuilding a growing middle class, starting with policies that finally break the barriers to women achieving full equality, is the best strategy for getting our economy humming and creating a better future for our children.

Pelosi Obama

Image from Wikimedia Commons

When Obama first came into office four and half years ago, he set up a high-profile task force that promised bold action to restore middle-class vitality and the American Dream. But the grim toll of recession, partisan bickering, and the Tea Party backlash – combined with high political costs of passing health care reform – quickly derailed that early momentum. Since 2010, Congress has forced through an austerity agenda, cutting aid to state and local governments that kept teachers in classrooms and cops on the beat, refusing to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, cutting services to the most vulnerable, and most recently even slashing food stamps.

Now, five years after financial speculators tanked the world economy, long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high and homeowners are still underwater. Young people are struggling to afford college, graduating with crushing loans, and moving back in with their parents while seeking work in a still-bleak market. 165 years after the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, a woman  working full time in the United States earns only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man – with the biggest wage gap right here in the Seattle metro area. Meanwhile, the income and and share of wealth of the top 1% is soaring once again.

The good news is that private sector jobs are finally growing, with some of the strongest growth in the country in King County. Some jobs are in high paying fields like computers and aerospace, but many are in restaurants, retail, and home care, with low pay, part-time hours, and few benefits. No matter how well we educate individuals or promote high wage sectors, our economy will continue to have this diversity. Therefore, what we need to make sure that everyone who works hard can achieve a dignified level of economic security are a combination of policies that build individual opportunity and that provide a platform of basic standards and infrastructure to support thriving communities.

The 6 cornerstones of a strong and growing middle class that Obama laid out in his speech last week are important steps toward individual opportunity and a stronger economy:

  • Good jobs, with emphases on manufacturing, new technologies, and infrastructure
  • Education, including preschool for 4-year olds and addressing soaring costs for
    higher ed
  • Home ownership
  • Secure retirement
  • Health care – following through on implementing Obamacare
  • Ladders of opportunity, including raising the national minimum wage

Obama’s speech was short on specifics, but at least begins to move away from the morass of austerity economics that seems to have trapped DC policymakers and needlessly prolonged the recession for working families. It also falls short in certain key areas that he earlier embraced. Fortunately, Pelosi and other House members are promoting an economic agenda for women and families that fills in some of the gaps with proposals for fair pay, paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave, and affordable, quality childcare.

Will these efforts go the way of the Middle Class Task Force? Not if we keep the pressure on and hold our representatives in Congress accountable for following through.

And a big chunk of this agenda should be front and center for our state policymakers, too. Next year, the Washington legislature can adopt paid sick days, family and medical leave insurance, enhanced funding for childcare and preschool, innovative college financing, and a route to retirement savings for all. And well before then, the Governor can call the legislature back into special session to adopt that transportation package they never should have left Olympia without funding.

It’s good to hear the President speaking out for the middle class again. The middle class needs to speak up for itself, too.

Originally published at Economic Opportunity Institute