10 ways to rebuild the middle class

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Unless we focus on making today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good, the long-term prospects for the economy and our families’ well-being are bleak.
 
That’s why the recommendations in “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hardworking Americans” are so spot-on. The report, from two dozen leading organizations on work and the economy, offers real solutions to restore the American Dream – the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll be able to provide a better life for your family.
 
Number 1
is making sure every job is a good job, by applying minimum wage and overtime laws to all workers, providing job training and career paths, and ensuring taxpayer dollars support jobs that help families make ends meet.
 
Number 2 is fixing the minimum wage, which at $7.25 buys 30% less than 40 years ago. Restoring the value of the minimum wage would give one in five workers a raise, pumping $25 billion more consumer spending into the economy.
 
Number 3
is to stop shedding our good jobs in the public and private sectors. Governments around the country employ 580,000 fewer workers now than before the recession. And the private sector has shipped 1.2 million jobs overseas since 2008. We must stop robbing our communities of jobs that enable workers to support businesses on Main Street.
 
Number 4
is we must make sure all workers get good health coverage and can save for a secure retirement. Over the past 30 years, the share of workers with job-based health care has plummeted, and reliable pensions have been replaced by threadbare 401Ks. We must continue to implement the Affordable Care Act – ObamaCare – which starting in 2014 will make health insurance affordable, even if you don’t get it through work. We should also set up new retirement plans for those who rely solely on Social Security and 401Ks, paying a defined amount – a pension – each month.
 
Number 5
is to uphold the freedom of workers to organize unions. In the 20th century, our nation turned low-wage factory jobs into good jobs that built the middle class because workers joined together to win decent pay and benefits. We need to modernize today’s labor laws, so the 21st century workforce can also win what it needs to support families with dignity.
 
Number 6
is to make the modern workplace pro-family. Workplace rules haven’t kept pace with workplace changes—more women in the workforce and more single-parent families. Four-out-of ten private sector jobs provide no paid sick days enabling workers to care for themselves or their families. And only a small proportion of Americans can take extended time to care for newborns or seriously ill family members without losing their entire paycheck. Providing earned sick days and family leave insurance are essential to protect our families in today’s economy.
 
Number 7 is to stop wage theft, what the CEO of a large Texas construction company called “a dirty little secret” that’s “not little and not really secret.” In fact, wage theft is ubiquitous, particularly in low-wage jobs, where workers are regularly paid less than minimum wage, not paid for overtime, forced to work off the clock or not paid at all. Unless we toughen the penalties and enforce the laws, dishonest employers will continue to steal wages from hard-pressed workers.
 
Too many employers, including big corporations, are trying to outsource their legal obligations to workers, cutting wages and avoiding payroll taxes and benefits by using “permatemps,” subcontracted employees and employees misclassified as “independent” contractors.

Number 8 is to enforce existing laws and expand the nation’s labor laws to cover these workers.
 
Number 9 is to turn talk of caring about the unemployed into action. Today 41% of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months, the highest share on record. That hasn’t stopped some employers from discriminating against workers just because they’re out of work. And it hasn’t stopped Congress from cutting unemployment benefits to long-term unemployed. Congress must ban hiring discrimination against the unemployed, and renew benefits for the long-term unemployed before they expire in December.
 
Number 10 on our list is to make workplaces safer. Low-wage employers often cut corners with unsafe workplaces and little or no training. Others continue to expose workers to hazardous chemicals. Workers who speak up are regularly retaliated against. We need to toughen and enforce the laws aimed at protecting worker safety.
 
We need good jobs for America now. There is no excuse to delay implementing the proposals in 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century. Each of these measures will honor work, protect our families and drive us forward to a more powerful, sustainable economy.

Bravo is executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of 17 state coalitions working for policies such as earned sick days and family leave insurance. Christine Owens is executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a national non-profit organization that undertakes research and public education in support of low wage and unemployed workers.