We need economic progress for more Americans
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Our country’s history is interwoven with a continuous struggle toward equality. That’s not to suggest that we should all be the same, but that our hard work, our skills, and our talents should earn each of us a fair shot. At our founding, equality was only for white, male landowners. Today, though we still have a ways to go, we’ve moved closer to equality in social, legal, and economic settings than ever before. That movement — progress — has opened doors of opportunity for everyone.

Unfortunately, economic progress shuddered to a stop in the 1970s as so-called “growth” policies began to help only top earners. Labor unions — major drivers of better wages across the board — were falsely targeted as the problem. We began to prioritize corporate profits through changes to the tax code. We ceased to regulate financial institutions in ways that would eventually lead to the Great Recession. The mantra of trickle-down economics was adopted, and the success of big business was paramount — avoiding overburdening them in the good times and propping them up in the bad.

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That mantra hasn’t worked. It created a whole class of working poor, people who don’t have health insurance, sick days, or retirement investment from their employers. It failed everyone but the top 1 percent, leaving wages and wealth stagnant for the vast majority of Americans.

It has to change, and it’s time for Congress to lead the way.

There are solutions at the ready. This week, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSchumer’s headaches to multiply in next Congress Gillibrand will give 2020 bid 'long, hard thought of consideration' Battle looms over funding for Trump's border wall MORE (D-Calif.) introduced the LIFT the Middle Class Act, a bill that would help more than 75 percent of American families by providing a tax credit to shore up their financial stability in the event of crisis. If your family makes less than $100,000 each month, you’d be eligible for up to $500 per month — critical buffer for an unexpected medical bill or other crisis that causes missed days at a minimum wage job.

I’ve introduced a bill that also seeks to provide economic security by updating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC Modernization Act would make students and caregivers — like a daughter supporting an aging parent — eligible for the EITC, increase the benefit offered to caregivers to $1,200 each year, and allow people the option to receive the credit monthly, rather than as a lump sum. We know the EITC works to bring people out of poverty; we need to expand it to more of the people who need it.

These proposals, and others that would strike at the heart of economic inequality, are awaiting congressional leadership that understands the challenges that most Americans are facing and is ready to legislate on their behalf, rather than on the needs of big corporations. Such leaders understand the countless ways in which the day to day economic stability of millions of Americans is connected to their housing, their access to education, to transportation, to preventive health care, sick leave and more. They understand that tax cuts for millionaires aren’t helping the young man working your grocery checkout line. They understand that the cost of living is making it harder for everyone but the richest to make ends meet, and that it’s time for us to think big and holistically.

You shouldn’t work full time and still be unable to afford your rent. You shouldn’t have to choose between losing your job and caring for a sick loved one. You shouldn’t have to wonder whether your medications and heating bill will keep you from saving enough to retire.

Congress can, and must, craft policies that promote fairness in our tax code and an economy that benefits everyone. We need to set a floor below which we, as a civilized society, will ensure that no one falls. It’s time for us to make economic progress again.

Watson Coleman represents New Jersey’s 12th District.