WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS WE FACE

ABSTRACT: Our country has important problems that need to be addressed. Not only aren’t they being addressed, but serious proposals (let alone efforts) to address them are not even on the table for discussion. These problems include:

  • Stagnating wages and a stagnating economy;
  • Corporations doing very well but employees losing ground and unemployment stubbornly high;
  • Parents working but their families struggling to make ends meet; and
  • Public infrastructure crumbling and public education suffering cuts.

From 1900 through the 1970s, our national government responded to these kinds of problems and challenges with job and infrastructure programs, support for families and the unemployed, labor laws, corporate regulation, and investments in education. Grassroots movements improved opportunities and justice for minorities and women.

Not everything was perfect and ultimate solutions were often not achieved, but real progress was made. The public had confidence that our country was on a path that would lead to better lives for the next generation.

Today, at a national level and in many states, our growing problems and the lack of serious discussion of solutions (let alone action) has left many of us skeptical about the future and cynical about government. To turn this around, we need strong, bold, and uncommon leaders, and an energized citizenry that is politically informed and engaged.

I encourage you to find a way to contribute to this effort. It will take small contributions from everyone and big contributions from some of us to get our country back on track.

FULL POST: Our country has important problems that need to be addressed. Not only aren’t they being addressed, but serious proposals (let alone efforts) to address them are not even on the table for discussion. [1]

Wages have been stagnant for the middle and working class for 30 years, yet even an increase in the minimum wage to reflect inflation is blocked in Congress. Corporations have record profits and stock prices, yet employees’ pay and benefits are falling. Corporations continue to move jobs overseas and hire increasing numbers of part-time employees or consultants to whom they give few benefits and no job security. Nonetheless, efforts to reign in corporations’ and executives’ power are rare. And strengthening workers’ and shareholders’ voices through unions and greater corporate democracy is barely mentioned.

Most parents, even those with young children, are in the workforce now; a dramatic change from the 1950s when most mothers stayed home with children. Yet our supports for working parent are limited and have not improved since 2000, despite declining economic security and stability for families.

Our public infrastructure – our roads, bridges, and public buildings including schools and courthouses – is crumbling but there’s no serious discussion, let alone effort, to address this problem. We face catastrophic effects from global climate change, from more severe storms and weather patterns to rising sea level, yet our only response is disaster relief.

Our public education system (including K-12, higher education, and early childhood education) is suffering from funding cuts. Tremendous inequities are present in educational opportunity and outcomes. Gaps based on race, ethnicity, and native language have shrunk a bit but remain wide; gaps based on class are growing. Students partaking of higher education are taking on unprecedented and crushing debt to do so. And afterward they face a job market with high unemployment and limited opportunities. Our efforts to reduce unemployment and provide assistance to those who are unemployed are inadequate and are major contributors to a stagnant economy.

In the period from 1900 through the 1970s, including the Great Depression, our national government responded to these kinds of problems and challenges. The New Deal, large-scale jobs programs, and the World War II mobilization provided jobs, supported families and the unemployed, and built infrastructure. Labor laws were passed that addressed pay, work hours, and safety issues and supported workers in organizing to balance employers’ power and obtain fair wages and working conditions. Corporations were regulated through anti-monopoly laws and safety regulations. In the 1930s and 1940s, new laws reformed the financial system and prevented another financial and economic crash until after their repeal in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1960s, we engaged in a War on Poverty.

Investments in education from kindergarten through college produced a better educated and more productive workforce. Public higher education was practically free up until the 1980s. The civil rights movement and the women’s movement led to substantial national legislation and action that improved rights and opportunities for minorities and women.

Not everything was perfect and ultimate solutions were often not achieved, but real progress was made. The public had confidence that our country was on a path that would lead to better lives for the next generation.

Today, at a national level and in many states, our growing problems and the lack of serious discussion of solutions (let alone action) has left many of us skeptical about the future and cynical about government. To restore the optimism of the public, to realize the promise of democracy, and to address the problems we face, we will need two things: strong, bold, and uncommon leaders, and an energized citizenry that is politically informed and engaged. We see these key elements of change in the history of the labor movement, the Progressive Era, the civil rights movement, the War on Poverty, and the women’s movement. We need such activism and energy again today to get our great country back on track. I encourage you to find a way to contribute to this effort. It will take small contributions from everyone and big contributions from some of us to get our country back on track.

In my next post, I will share examples of leadership and citizen activism from the local level that are addressing important problems. Given the current level of dysfunction in the federal government, near-term efforts to tackle these issues will probably have to occur at the local and state levels.

[1]       Kuttner, R., 9/30/14, “In political system disconnected from society’s ills, remedies pushed to fringes of public debate,” The American Prospect (Much of this post is a summary of Kuttner’s article.)

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2 comments

  1. Corey Z · · Reply

    I appreciate your bringing out that it will require bold leaders, AND actions, big and small, from each of us to make a difference. My small move right now has been to start conversations with friends and families about the questions on the ballots this November. I figure every little bit of awareness helps.

    1. Corey, Thanks for your comment and your activism! The ballot questions are a great opportunity to engage and educate voters. And every little bit does help. I’m going to vote No, Yes, Yes, Yes. How about you?

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