More Jobs, Better Paying Jobs, More Growth, Opportunity, and Economic Security
Economic anxiety has been the driving force in every election since the global economic downturn of 2008 and it will again be the driving force in the 2018 election. Corporate profits and the stock market are up but American families are still struggling to pay bills, pay off debt, and save enough for retirement. And despite the low unemployment rate, younger workers worry that they are entering a job market with declining career opportunities and increasing competition from foreign workers and coming waves of job-replacing automation.
Barack Obama saw far greater gains in the stock market indexes and new job creation than has Donald Trump, but he did not try to sell the public on a false narrative that “Happy Days are Here Again” because he knew it would not ring true with most people who are not at the tip of the wealth distribution. The S&P 500 index increased 295% from March 9, 2009 to the end of 2017 (including the 18% gain since Donald Trump took office) and more than 13 million jobs were added nationwide over the same period (including somewhat fewer than 2 million in Trump’s first year), but middle class incomes are still stagnant, wealth inequality is growing worse, and people know they are working harder but still falling behind.
Voters want to know their leaders understand their economic frustrations and concerns and know what to do to grow the economy and make the future brighter. Every Democrat running for office at any level should be able to state with confidence, “I have a plan to create more jobs, better paying jobs, strengthen economic opportunity and give hardworking American families a chance to earn the economic security they deserve.”
Democrats have no shortage of policies to lift the US economy and support middle-class families and those struggling to get into the middle class, but too few Democratic candidates place their plans for the economy at the center of their campaigns. It is important to engage voters and local businesses, listen to them describe their lives and challenges. But listening and relating to current, local problems is not enough. Candidates have to have a coherent plan to make needed changes and chart a better way forward.
It helps to offer a clear road map in a few broad strokes, so we have been encouraging candidates to use something like this:
My plan to grow the economy, create good local jobs and secure our economic future has three elements: 1) invest in people, 2) invest in ideas, and 3) invest in connections.
Invest in people to build a stronger workforce by improving education from preschool through advanced degrees, strengthening job skills training and apprenticeships.
Invest in ideas to regain America’s lost innovation advantage by supporting basic scientific research and strengthening business incentives for research and development, new technological innovation, and new product development.
Invest in the connections people need for work, and businesses need to succeed, by modernizing roads, bridges, rails, ports, airports, data-networks, and energy grids.
The problem with our economy is sluggish growth caused by decades of short-sighted decisions and too little of the types of investments that lead to future growth. Americans are working harder but not getting ahead because politicians have been cutting budgets for education and infrastructure, and business have cut R&D spending and the investments that spur innovation, growth, and higher paying jobs.
When we stop bleeding our budgets with misguided tax cuts for the super rich and politically well connected, we can make the needed investments in projects that create more jobs right now while they lay a strong foundation for better jobs, more economic growth, and more opportunities in the future.
The example above is not intended to be a national Democratic Economic Message. This is the message we developed with a candidate in one specific congressional district because it best fit the candidate’s views and the needs of local voters. Developing a national Democratic Economic Message has been a priority for Democratic Party leaders for several election cycles, especially following the 2010, 2014, and 2016 elections where losses were attributed to a failure to address voters’ economic anxieties, and last year Democrats in Washington rolled out the “Better Deal” grouping of economic policies. But at the local level, neither candidates nor voters care much about a national economic message. Voters want authenticity. They want to know their leaders understand their anxieties and know what to do to make things better.
It is very important that the plan be designed to address local economic anxieties and local business frustrations. There are many rural areas that are experiencing a continued sense of helplessness and hopelessness as jobs leave the area and populations decline as younger workers are leave to seek better opportunities. Urban areas have a different set of concerns, as do the suburban areas that the recovery has skipped over, but wherever we find economic anxiety we also hear concerns about access to quality education, the availability of affordable healthcare, and the crisis of addiction.
Local businesses and manufacturers care a lot about access to customers and access to talented workers. These concerns leave them open to an agenda focused on education, training, and solid infrastructure including roads, rails, high-speed data networks and inexpensive energy.
There are many ways to create good paying jobs, and as opposed to the invest-for-growth plan above, other candidates will choose to design plans that place greater emphasis on strengthening the middle class, reducing inequality, sustainably growing the economy, or fighting discrimination in all its forms. All of these are good goals in and of themselves, and all of these help create the conditions for job creation.
Some Democrats will want to emphasize sustainable economic development and “green” jobs that benefit the environment. With wind farms, solar farms and home solar electric systems, biofuel facilities, and other job creating alternative energy plants sprouting up in more and more states, sustainable economics has gained appeal in many communities from coast to coast and across the American heartland. We have long moved past the false choice between support for the environment and job creation. Fighting for the environment is fighting for better jobs.
From rural communities to many urban centers, candidates may choose to emphasize the potential to grow the economy by addressing discrimination in all its forms. Discrimination is a moral wrong that also restrains economic productivity. In addition to the individuals who face barriers, the whole economy suffers when people are blocked from living up to their full potential by inadequate local schools, racism, poverty, or hostile work environments. Many economists suggest that our economy could grow far faster if we allowed our population to grow faster by dramatically increasing the pace of legal immigration, a move that would improve the age ratios that threaten long term financing of Social Security and Medicare.
Many Democrats seem to think it is important to battle other Democrats over whether candidates should emphasize economic issues or fight for progressive social issues like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, DACA and LGBTQ equality. Both are necessary and aligned in the same fight. Fighting discrimination is fighting for greater economic efficiency, economic growth and better paying jobs. There is no such thing as “job-killing” justice.
Democrats who seek to emphasize helping the middle class or reducing economic and political inequality, should similarly search for the growth enhancing, job creating elements of their plans. The case is not difficult to make, but many Democrats skip over this part relying on promises like free college tuition and health care as the principal promises of the approach. Both Middle Out Economics and the Economics of Inequality, offer far more than simply Robin Hood redistribution of wealth from the rich to poor and middle income workers.
Extreme wealth inequality, and the distorted political system it spawns, cost the middle-class the purchasing power needed to sustain the kind of growth that made our economy the envy of the world. Large corporations use the political and legal systems to block competition and maintain monopoly power. Fighting inequality is fighting for a more balanced, faster growing economy, with more jobs and better paying jobs.
The key is to always frame issues around the voters’ priorities, and this means talking about jobs all the time, by listening to voters’ economic anxieties, and having lots of stories and examples of local voters and local businesses that are fighting to carry on against challenges that are relatable to others in the audience. But it is not enough to connect with voters’ problems. Voters want to to hear realistic plans, stated in simple but persuasive terms to get the local economy going, bring more jobs, better jobs economic growth, opportunity, and economic security. Every candidate should dub themselves the “jobs candidate” in their race.