Nearly two years ago, Center for American Progress President and CEO Neera Tanden wrote, “We have a historic opportunity to address poverty today, because the interests of low-income people and the middle class are converging.”
As the first vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I was proud to unveil the CPC’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017—The People’s Budget: Prosperity Not Austerity; Invest in America. It offers evidence-based fiscal policy that boosts both short- and long-term economic growth, while also reducing the deficit by more than $5.1 trillion dollars over ten years. More importantly, it demonstrates that We the People can rise in this economy together, and that current levels of poverty and economic inequality aren’t inevitable—they are the result of policies that don’t put hard-working Americans first.
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While conservatives are battling over how much to cut vital programs that help the 46 million people in poverty, our budget recognizes that serious economic hardship is something that will affect most of us. More than half of all Americans will experience at least a year of poverty or near-poverty during their working years. If you include people who will endure at least one year of unemployment or who will need to turn to the safety net, that represents nearly 80 percent of us. That’s why The People’s Budget reinvests in our country after years of austerity policies, which have cut the social safety net and resulted in crumbling infrastructure across the country.
Americans are working longer hours and taking home pay checks that haven’t kept up with the rising cost of health care, housing, and education. We must find a pathway out of poverty for low-income Americans and restore economic security to the working class. That begins by investing in infrastructure, investing in education, and investing in wage growth to increase opportunity for all.
The People’s Budget invests $1 trillion to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, which would ensure that our roads, bridges, railways, and facilities will be strong, and that no town will experience the kind of devastation that we are witnessing in Flint, Michigan. In all, we create 3.6 million well-paying jobs to push our economy back to full-employment, and the increased demand for workers will help spur across-the-board wage growth. We also protect collective bargaining, seek to close the pay equity gap, and increase funding for worker protection agencies in order to crack down on wage theft, combat overtime abuses, and safeguard workers’ retirement savings. In short, we recognize that the struggles of people in poverty and the middle class aren’t due to a lack of hard work—they are due to the lack of a fair deal.
When it comes to ensuring that children in working families are prepared for success, The People’s Budget tackles the current inequities in education head on. From pre-school through college, every student deserves a high-quality affordable education and a fair shot at the American Dream. That’s why The People’s Budget provides pre-K for all students and fully funds Early Head Start to help families during the critical prenatal through toddler years. We fully fund Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the most powerful tool that we have to drive improvements in educational outcomes for low-income children. Finally, our budget creates a federal matching program that supports state efforts to promote debt-free college, and invests in federal student aid programs to ensure that students with the greatest need aren’t priced out of a higher education.
In addition to creating good jobs for workers and educational opportunities for their children, The People’s Budget ensures that those workers can afford housing for their families. This isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do. For example, new research demonstrates that housing assistance during childhood is associated with higher adult earnings for girls; and among black households, increased earnings for both boys and girls when they reach adulthood. Yet only 25 percent of families that qualify for federal housing assistance actually receive it; and nearly 8 million low-income families pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing.
The People’s Budget fully funds programs to make housing affordable and accessible for all Americans. Moreover, at a moment when there are a record 1.3 million homeless students in our public schools, we invest $11 billion to end family homelessness through vouchers, new affordable housing units, and rapid rehousing assistance in cooperation with the efforts of cities, counties, and tribes.
By now—after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and historic levels of inequality—we should realize that there is really no separation between the interests of people with low incomes and those of the middle class. The People’s Budget is an aspirational document indicative of our shared progressive values that puts a down payment on a brighter future for all Americans, ensuring every family struggling to make ends meet has a fair shot at the American Dream. It’s past time that we embrace policies that will dramatically reduce poverty, restore economic mobility, and grow and strengthen the middle class.