Making work pay in the 21st Century economy

The middle class is the great engine of the American economy. But today that engine is sputtering and as a result, both American families and the economy are struggling.


The wages of most workers have been stuck in neutral for 30 years. More and more Americans—even those with college degrees—are toiling in jobs that do not pay enough to support their families in dignity and offer hope of a brighter future. And the jobs that will grow the most in the next decade are low wage, stripped of benefits and requiring no more than a high school diploma. Unless our nation focuses on making today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good, the long-term prospects for our families’ well-being and the national economy are bleak.


Our nation grew in prosperity and opportunity in the 20th century as our government, business and labor worked together to promote policies to build the middle class, founded on earning decent wages and benefits and broadly sharing in the nation’s growing prosperity. But in the past 30 years, the picture has been turned upside down.The poorest fifth got poorer and middle-income families gained very little, with only upper income Americans seeing significant increases in pay.


The growing number of low-wage jobs do not come with basics like paid sick days to allow workers to care for themselves or their families. And only a small proportion of Americans can take time off from work to care for a newborn child or a sick family member, without losing their entire paycheck.


As we inch out of the Great Recession of 2009, the majority (58%) of the jobs that have been regained are low wage. When we look forward, the prospects are no better. Eight of the 10 high-growth jobs—covering four million workers—require no more than a high school education.


Rebuilding the great American middle class in the 21st century will once again take deliberate action by the American people, through our government and by businesses that understand—even in the global economy—that our mutual long-term prosperity depends on treating workers everywhere with dignity and giving them the means to a decent standard of living. It will mean taking a u-turn from the policies of the past 30 years, which have squeezed workers in the pursuit of short-term profits, slowly hollowing out the middle class on which our long-term prosperity is built.


10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century lays out a road map for this u-turn. We describe common sense policies towards making today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good. The core value guiding this road map is that work lies at the center of a robust and sustainable economy; that all work has dignity; and that through work, all of us should be able to support our families, educate our children and enjoy our retirements.

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