Democrats and Progressives don't know how to use the latest economic progress as a part of their campaign strategy. The reason is simple; while the economic recovery has been ongoing since 2009, most Americans feel decidedly uncomfortable that they have not benefited from it and they certainly don't feel confident that their economic wherewithal will improve anytime soon. The appropriate way to address this quandary will definitely capture votes in the next election.
It may surprise some that the generally uniformed public is quite well aware of economic issues just not in the way you would think. While policy geeks chortle over the latest job numbers the bulk of America has a visceral understanding that wage growth is not following. It may be true that 295,000 new jobs were added in January but it is also true that the worker participation rate (that is the number of working age people employed in the work force) actually declined and wage growth was a sterile one tenth of one percent. Working Americans are not indifferent to these disparities and so consumer sentiment that was on the rise through the end of 2014, has now started to decline.
Democrats face the dilemma of a growing economy with little or no positive news for the 90% of the work force. These are the folks who have watched the purchasing power of their income continuously squeezed over the past thirty years while job requirements, job protection and job benefits have all declined. While Democrats wring their hands publicly over the decline of the Middle Class, they have steered clear of the issue of economic recovery because it has only benefited the 1%. The best they have to offer is to publicly speak out for the need for outplacement resources, retraining and the need for a better educated workforce.
To say they Democrats and Progressives have missed the boat is an understatement. Despite repeated reassurance that the economy, namely the economic fate of each of those being asked, is the first priority; the political response has been tepid at best. The president has made the first intelligent statements about income inequality both in his public addresses and more recently in the 2015 Economic Report of the President. But the president's message is muddled since it is conflated with all the other economic issues he is juggling as he sets the stage for his legacy. To quote The New York Times summary:
"The report prescribes increased government spending on education and infrastructure, as well as the approval of broad new trade agreements with Pacific Rim nations and Europe. To curb inequality, it calls for cutting taxes on families with modest incomes and raising them on high earners. To safeguard the supply of 'prime-age' workers, it reiterates Mr. Obama's insistence on new immigration policies."
This is hardly a pitch that addresses the winning issues which are: how does the average worker get ahead of inflation with wage increases, participate in productivity growth (something that hasn't happened since 1973), establish some semblance of financial security and feel confident that there are resources available to adapt individual work effort to marketable skills in an increasingly complex world.
The prescription for success is to embrace the dilemma directly and speak candidly as to how it must be resolved. How about a campaign slogan that starts with this: "Hey America, the economy is growing, but not for you." "You want better wages, you have to demand them and we have to back you up." What does that mean? It means assaulting CEOs who think that they have no obligation to their work force. It means taxing corporations that egregiously mismatch wage grow and executive compensation. It means openly advocating for publicly supported continuing education, job transition support, universal medical and pension benefits and widespread dissemination of job opportunity information.
American businesses don't need to be hamstrung with restrictions on their flexibility to adapt as markets change. The historical associations of corporate sponsored health and pension benefits are an anachronism. Medicare and Social Security are programs that not only work but are the most economical vehicles for providing these services that have been dreamed up to date.
Democrats don't have to shrink back in fear from conservatives labeling them socialist; they can be passionate advocates of "capitalism with restraints." Corporate practices should be as unconstrained as is possible without creating monopolies, jeopardizing worker safety or commonsense restrictions on hours and work conditions. Democrats need to advocate corporate tax reform in order to strip away or penalize the disgraceful transfer of wealth from workers to executives and shareholders that has transpired over the past 40 years while at the same time advocating for the programs that transcend traditional associations that no longer make sense. Properly transmitted advocacy for equality of opportunity with public programs to support financial security that do not interfere with pathways for individual achievement is a winning strategy in any election. Democrats and Progressives simply need embrace a winning issue forcefully and promote policies to bring beneficial outcomes for middle-class Americans into the twenty first century.