Yesterday, our country celebrated Labor Day. And when we talk about workers, we must understand one tragic reality. The working class of this country is being decimated.
Today, as a result of the pandemic and economic meltdown, tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs and their incomes. As we speak, many of our families are struggling to put food on the table and feed their kids. Emergency food shelves, all across this country, have seen an unprecedented level of demand.
This is America. People should not be going hungry.
And, in America today, because we do not guarantee health care as a human right, when you lose your job, you also lose your health care. Today, over 90 million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. That means they cannot go to a doctor when they get sick.
Yes. In the richest country in the history of the world many thousands of Americans will die unnecessarily because they lack health care, and many others will face bankruptcy because of their outrageously high medical and prescription drug bills.
Today, in America, millions of families are worried about being evicted from their apartments or losing their homes. Yes. In the midst of the worst public health crisis in 100 years, people are worried about where they’re going to be sleeping next month. How outrageous, how frightening, is that?
Clearly, in the midst of this unprecedented crisis the U.S. Congress must act and act NOW. It cannot continue to turn its back on the working families of this country — because the suffering is just too great.
The good news is that the House of Representatives has done its job. The very bad news is that the Republican-controlled Senate has done nothing.
The HEROES Act passed by the House in May, over three months ago, would extend the $600 a week increase in unemployment benefits that workers received from the CARES Act. This is absolutely essential. It would give families, during this crisis, the income they need to live with dignity.
That legislation would also provide every working-class American with another $1,200 stimulus check.
It would provide $175 billion in rental and mortgage assistance to help people pay their rent and mortgages.
It would provide nutrition assistance so that millions of senior citizens, people with disabilities, and children do not go hungry.
It would provide over $900 billion to state and local governments to prevent the massive layoff of teachers, firefighters, nurses, and construction workers.
It would provide hazard pay to essential workers. Yes. We honor those who put their lives on the line to protect us. We should adequately compensate them as well.
It would provide health care for those who lost their jobs.
That legislation would also provide vital funding for election security, and the U.S. Postal Service. Yes. We must make certain that people in this country can vote without risking their health or their lives.
Today, I say to the Republican Leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell: Do your job. Let us pass the HEROES Act, or legislation that is even better. But, for once in your life, stop worrying about your billionaire campaign contributors, and respond to the needs of working families.
But let’s be clear. The truth is that working families faced an enormous economic crisis before the pandemic — a crisis which has gone on for many decades.
When we talk about the economy, we have got to appreciate what it means, morally and economically, that our country has more income and wealth inequality today than at any time since the 1920s; when three people own more wealth than the bottom half of our country; when the top 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 92% and when 45% of all new income goes to the top 1%.
We need to understand what kind of economic policies have been created such that, over the last 30 years, the top 1% have seen a $22 trillion increase in their wealth, while the bottom half of the American people have actually seen a decline in their wealth.
Let me repeat that:
The top 1% have seen a $22 trillion increase in their wealth, while the bottom half of the American people have actually seen a decline in their wealth over the last 30 years.
We need to know why, despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, the average American worker today makes no more than he or she did 50 years ago in real wages after accounting for inflation.
We need to know why most of the new jobs being created are low-skill, low-wage and often part-time. We need to know why over half a million Americans are homeless and 18 million families are spending more than half of their incomes on housing.
We are the richest country in the history of the world, but 40% of older workers have no savings for retirement, millions of seniors have barely enough to stay alive and 45 million Americans live in poverty.
Let me be clear. The agenda that we as progressives are fighting for is the agenda of the working class of this country. It is the agenda that has the courage to take on the 1% and the powerful special interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country.
Ours is an agenda that demands that:
- We end the growing crisis of oligarchy, income and wealth inequality and a corrupt political system.
- We raise the minimum wage to a living wage of at least $15 per hour, giving 40 million people in this country a pay raise.
- We guarantee that if workers want to form a union, they have the right to do so.
- We must make certain that women receive equal pay for equal work.
- We ensure that parents and their kids have access to universal, affordable childcare.
- We allow young people to get the education they need because we will make public colleges and universities tuition-free while we cancel student debt.
- We guarantee health care as a human right, not a job benefit, through a Medicare for All, single-payer system. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that health care must be granted to all.
- We must have comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship for the 11 million undocumented in this country.
- We reform our broken and racist criminal justice system, including legalizing marijuana, eliminating private prisons and detention facilities, ending cash bail and rethinking the nature of policing in our country.
This is an economic agenda that we must keep fighting for. Let us create an economy that works for all, and not just the few. Let us come together to defeat Donald Trump in November, and then let us keep fighting and organizing for the progressive change our country desperately needs.