Inequality in our country already had reached unsustainable levels before last year, and the pandemic and economic disruption that followed only exacerbated that unacceptable trend. There are always going to be income disparities in a market economy like ours, and that is as it should be, but the growing inequality of opportunity to fulfill the American dream is untenable.
Some concrete steps we can take to remedy this follow below, and I have two songs to set the tone for these recommendations: Earn Enough For Us by XTC (and the Freedy Johnston cover as a bonus), and The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby & the Range.
Health Care: Ensuring everyone has access to good health care coverage regardless of their income or circumstances is absolutely critical for people to truly have equal opportunity to succeed. The health care prong of the “We’re Better Than This” platform would create that system, and empower people to start businesses and make other life and career choices that maximize their opportunities without worrying about losing their coverage.
Realistic Access to Higher Education: The higher education prong of the “We’re Better Than This” platform will give people of all incomes an opportunity to pursue college or graduate studies without saddling them with mortgage-sized debt.
We know that access to higher education plays a critical role in creating opportunity, and this new system would make it realistic for everyone to pursue it. Similar to the health care prong noted above, the ability for all people to make life and career choices without worrying about their student debt becoming unsustainable will be a boon to their chances of success.
Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit: While most of the focus today on making work pay is on increasing the minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit is the better way to achieve this goal.
Over the years, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, and some increase to make up for that is warranted. But when the minimum wage gets too high, it starts to reduce jobs for the very people we are trying to help. And higher minimum wages discourage hiring of teens and people transitioning back into the job market, holding them back from opportunities that can make a big difference for their futures.
The earned income tax credit, on the other hand, can be targeted to those who need it as a shared investment without putting all the burden on employers. Expanding it so anyone working can be brought up to a livable wage, when combined with the health care and educational elements above, will put a big dent in inequality.
A More Flexible Safety Net That Makes Work Pay: The last point here leads into the next prong of the platform but is an important one. Safety net programs that assist with core needs like food, housing, and child care both protect people going through hard times and give a boost to people who are starting from behind due to poverty, systemic racism, and other circumstances.
We want to design these programs so that people have that safety net and helpful boost while always ensuring that work is the best path for their success. An important way we can incentivize work is to make the phase-out of these programs more flexible so that when people earn more income, they and their families don’t immediately lose these other benefits and always do better than they would if they were not working.