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For far too long, millions of Americans have been struggling to make ends meet. Even before the financial crash 62 percent of Americans in 2004 said the American Dream was out of reach for the middle class. Seventy percent of those polled by the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Democracy Corps in September 2010 say they or their family and friends have lost a job, and 70 percent say they or their family and friends are experiencing reduced wages or hours at work. Our job is to show that a progressive economic approach will make a difference in people’s lives. Below are some key facts, arguments, and tips to make the case for an economy that works for all Americans.
The American economy is not working for most Americans
|There are five job seekers for every opening today.
|The richest 1 percent of Americans had nearly 25 percent of the wealth by 2007. That is the largest share of income held by the top 1 percent since before the Great Depression.
|Even if every current opening was filled today, four out of five unemployed workers would still be unemployed.
|The top 1 percent’s share of the economy almost tripled from 1976 to 2007. During the same period the average hourly wage was cut by more than 7 percent.
|Forty-two percent of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more.
|The richest 4.4 million Americans (top 3 percent) earned more than the economies of 90 other countries in 2008 ($24.6 billion). If the top 3 percent of Americans were their own country, they would have the 92nd largest economy in the world.
|CEOs were making 364 times as much as the average worker in 2006.
|The real income for the top 1 percent grew 10 times faster than the bottom 90 percent of households from 2002 to 2007.
|Two-thirds of all income growth went to the top 1 percent of Americans from 2002 to 2007.
Your message tasks
- Recognize where people are. Express outrage that the middle class is in danger.
- Build a vision for implementing values. People feel anxious about their future, not policy plans. Tell a story and put the pieces together.
- Illustrate the contrast. There are two visions of how the economy works: “trickle down” versus middle class up. We want an economy that works for everyone instead of an economy that works for CEOs and will “trickle down” to the rest of us.
Conservatives believe wealth will “trickle down” to the middle class
- Conservatives want the middle class to wait for economic success to “trickle down.” Conservatives think that if Wall Street is alright, Main Street will be alright. We know that is not the case. Conservative “trickle down” economics hurt the economy and hurt the middle class.
- This past year corporate profits reached their highest figures on record, but underemployment is at 17 percent and nearly 1 out of 10 Americans is looking for work.
- The average CEO made 364 times the salary of the average person in 2006.
Progressives believe the middle class is the economic engine of the American economy
- Progressives believe the degree to which America is fulfilling its promise is measured by the state of its middle class.
- Progressives believe the economic strength of the United States was built by the middle class, innovators, and small business people.
- Progressives believe the middle class is the backbone of the American economy.
- A lopsided economy doesn’t work. It can’t just serve the top or the bottom or the middle. Our economy has been the strongest when it works for consumers, small businesses, and middle-class families—not just those at the tippy top.
Straw man warning
- This isn’t about punishing the rich. This is about everyone paying their fair share. We need a government that works for all people, not just a handful.
- Conservatives throw out a false “class warfare” attack that Democrats want to soak the rich—the “job creators”—with taxes. But a middle-class tax cut goes to every American. If you make $8 million a year you also get a middle-class tax cut on the first $200,000 of income. Republicans are essentially proposing that America’s top earners get a tax break in addition to what everyone else gets.
Do’s and Don’ts
|Do be clear: This is about an economy that works, and works for the middle class. Our mission is to champion the interests of the “middle class”—those who work hard and play by the rules. Americans need to know there is someone who will stand up for them.
|Don’t run away from the progressive record. We’ve tried the progressive approach and the conservative approach, and we can all agree which one worked. Under the President Clinton administration we created 23 million new jobs, lifted millions out of poverty, and increased everyone’s wages. Clinton raised marginal tax rates on the rich, and in return income for the top 1 percent increased 10.3 percent annually. Under the Bush administration, by contrast, we saw incomes decline, no real job growth, and the economy literally on the verge of collapse.
|Do express our commitment to small businesses and entrepreneurs. These self-employed segments of the middle class capture the imagination of Americans. Special tax cuts for the wealthiest don’t help the nearly 9 out of 10 small businesses that actually employ American workers.
|Don’t forget who fought for small businesses. Democrats created eight small business tax cuts. The GOP has fought 15 different proposals to help small business.
- Conservative “trickle down” economics hurt the economy and hurt the middle class. Why would we try it again?
- America’s wealthiest individuals didn’t create jobs when the Bush tax cuts were put into place, and they aren’t creating them today when the cuts remain in effect. Why would extending them change that equation?
- Class warfare? The Bush tax cuts gave the country’s highest earners breaks that went to no one else. The average middle-class family got less than $1,000 a year while the average millionaire got more than $100,000.
Download the toolkit (pdf)