The answer I keep coming back to is that government must bridge the gap between what employers can pay and what it takes to support families.
For generations, conservatives have been portraying recipients of government help as idle, lazy, undeserving and. The fact is, major government programs mostly support the working poor and those too old, too young, or too disabled to work.
Government programs are, in effect, indirect subsidies to low-wage businesses. Construction companies can hold on to their seasonal workforce because unemployment insurance pays them in winter. Workers and Walmart and McDonald’s survive on low wages and no benefits with help from food stamps and government health programs. Workers who aren’t paid enough to afford a car can take public transportation to their jobs.
As America evolves into a nation of low-wage workers, we can either make companies pay more – raise the minimum wage dramatically, require employers to provide benefits for health care and retirement – or we can keep employers’ labor costs low by strengthening the safety net. Let the government provide health care for all, affordable higher education for those with potential, a more generous Social Security program to make up for the withering away of the private sector pension system.
Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress want to go in the opposite direction. Post-Obama Democrats need to get beyond a rear-guard action to save New Deal programs and find new ways to help Americans survive on the low-wage work millions of them will be stuck with.
This debate may be part of a series: #post-Obama-Agenda.