The election this November will be one of the most important in the lives of today’s workers.
As CEO of a company that employees more than 5,000 people, I know that the outcome will affect each and every one of them.
At virtually every backyard get together these days, most workers discuss -- and lament -- the state of the economy. But not in the abstract terms we hear from politicians. These days, the economy is personal.
Those who still own homes are relieved that they can still host family and friends, of course. Their homes may be worth less than what they owe, but so far they’ve survived the fate of foreclosure. Another million workers won’t be so lucky next year.
For private sector workers, stagnation and declines in real wages are a stark reality. Statistics show that if workers were paid in direct proportion to productivity gains over the last 12 years, the average wage would hover around $31.00 per hour instead of $10.28. That would be something to celebrate.
Construction workers are frustrated to see so little movement to rebuild our national infrastructure. They are frightened that the Project Labor Agreements they rely on to set fair work terms may soon disappear.
Public sector workers are losing their right to collective bargaining and being demonized for having had the audacity to negotiate pension benefits.
Our newest entrants to the labor force aren’t having a much better time. A twenty-something who chooses not to go to college will earn $225,000 less over his lifetime than his sister who did go -- but she’ll leave college having racked up tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, in debt. And they’re both probably living with their parents.
Workers near retirement, meanwhile, are anxious that they won’t come close to maintaining their pre-retirement lifestyle. They’re also nervous about politicians’ talk of raising the retirement age, cutting Medicare and limiting Social Security. Somewhere today, a grandfather may tell the
unemployed young woman sitting next to him that she can’t have his job because he can’t afford to retire.
For our nation’s 12 million unemployed workers, many of whom who have been looking for work for 40 weeks or more, the discussion often comes around to asking if anyone knows who is hiring. The entry point into the middle class is nowhere in sight.
Those are the conversations you’ll hear at backyard gatherings.
Here are our choices:
Will we build an economy that works for workers, or vote to empower the few at the expense of the many? Will we vote to elect a president whose policies are about investing in our future, putting people back to work, rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, and honoring a worker’s right to organize and bargain collectively? Will we insist that social security not be placed in the hands of private investment banks?
Or will we vote to return to failed economic policies that protect the one percent at the expense of workers? Will we vote yes to proposed budget cuts that will suck demand out of our economy, resulting in millions more joining the ranks of the unemployed? Will we vote to return to outdated, outmoded and out-of-touch policies that serve only a wealthy few?
We are at a fork in the road.
Between now and November, it is my hope that the conversations we have steer us economic recovery.
Roger Smith is the President & CEO of American Income Life Insurance Company.