While Congress prepares to argue about a potential government shutdown and whether to raise the debt ceiling, the average American is wondering what to do about rising costs and stagnating incomes. The median household income in the United States - that being the yearly earnings of a typical middle class family - is 6.2 percent lower than it was in September of 2008. In a healthy economy, that is a number that is constantly rising. More frightening numbers have recently come to light showing real income for the bottom 99 percent had fallen 11.6 percent during the recession yet has only grown 0.4 percent since 2009. The wealthiest 1 percent, on the other hand, have found themselves with 95 percent of the total real wage growth. It is not surprising then that some question the recovery and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Even the economic indicators that look positive often come with some negative news. Unemployment continues to fall, but this is mostly because people have taken lower paying jobs. Corporate profits are constantly setting record highs yet labor's share of the national income - the way the vast majority of Americans earn their living - has fallen to a record low. The stock market has skyrocketed much like the number of underwater homes once did, a number that remains stubbornly high. These are the signs that someone is recovering, just not middle class America.
A long time ago, I was taught that you should never point out a problem without a solution. It is a lesson the Republican Party seems to have forgotten, as evidenced by their lambasting of everything the president offers while rarely having an answer of their own. The best part about the problem our nation continues to face is that there are many solutions. Repealing sequestration would stop the harsh, arbitrary, and unnecessary across the board cuts from further damaging our economy. Going to conference with the Senate on a budget bill will move us towards stability and away from uncertainty. A jobs bill will ease the suffering of the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans. An infrastructure bill will create even more jobs stimulating our economy and making America stronger. These are the solutions that will get America back on track.
It has been five years since our nation suffered an economic meltdown comparable only to the Great Depression. For many American families, it has been the hardest five years of their lives. We have begun to see positive signs in our economy, signs that at least provide hope to those still struggling. The recovery to date, however, has disproportionately favored the wealthiest Americans meaning that, for many, these signs have provided only hope. Unfortunately, even the best economic signs cannot put food on the table and roofs over heads. That is why we need to redouble our efforts, work for a stronger recovery, and ensure that new prosperity can be shared by all.
Rangel represents New York’s 13th Congressional District and is in his 22nd term. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.