Good news: America is hiring! Bad news: For too many jobs, the pay still stinks. The jobs numbers released last week showed 250,000 new hires in December — part of the 3 million jobs created in 2014, the best year since 1999. But pay for those December jobs was actually down by 0.2 percent.
There's a lot to be optimistic about in the American economy — gas prices are way down, unemployment is under 6 percent and the Dow has topped 18,000. But the dream that a rising tide floats all boats ain't happening. The Pew Research Center recently pegged the gap between upper-income families and the middle class to be the widest ever measured.
But let's stop for a second and admire the resiliency of our economy. After the shock of 9/11, we came back. After the bottom fell out of our financial system in 2008, we came back. Policy had a lot to do with it — smart people made wise decisions that saved our bacon. Our corporations, too, navigated rough waters. But let's not forget that American workers and consumers — the most high-functioning in the world — have been a huge part of the comeback. Together, we are a powerful force.
For years now, we haven't been able to talk about change because, you know, "we're still in a recession." But people are ready to talk about our inequality problem now — even Pope Francis. Of course, many leaders say America's perfect, so don't change anything. Workers who are stuck in minimum wage, fearful that technology will take their jobs, living a paycheck away from oblivion, know that's crazy talk. So let's move on to ideas that can help.
Creating a health care safety net has been a game-changer. States not taking part, like Idaho, need to extend it to all their citizens. Focusing on worker training is crucial, too. The world is changing faster than ever; keeping up is a challenge. President Obama's proposal to offer two years of free community college is right on.
But pay is the key. Now that the recession's over, the unfairness is plain to see. Here in Washington, we decided to raise the minimum wage. Did our economy tank? No, and according to a 2012 analysis in USA Today, we have the nation's fourth fastest growing economy. In Seattle, they voted to raise the minimum wage even higher. A raise in the federal minimum wage would be a great step toward an even stronger America.
Bill Clinton famously said the best social program he could think of is a job. Today we know he was half right. The pay needs to be fair, too. ♦