Democrats can do more than the minimum…and win


Written by Anna Greenberg, this piece was originally published in The Hill.

Republicans were not the only winners this election season. The one issue that continues to be number one for voters is the economy.  Even in statewide races where Republicans bested their opponents, ballot initiatives designed to raise wages were also big winners.  Stagnant wages, persistent long term unemployment and inequality are significant concerns for voters, and the election results demonstrate that voters did not find real answers from either party.  But post-election, the president has an opportunity to make substantial change for millions of low wage workers with direct, simple action; he can issue an executive order when awarding contracts that requires the government give preference to businesses that pay their employees a living wage and provide benefits such as healthcare and sick leave. Recent polling shows that voters overwhelmingly support such action. 

The federal government is the largest creator of low wage jobs through its contracts with private industry.  It spends nearly 1 trillion dollars per year on goods and services from private industries through contracts, loans and grants each year, which results in the employment of 26 million workers or one fifth of the civilian force.  However, 74 percent of these workers make less than $10 an hour and nearly 60 percent receive no benefits.  More than one-third (36%) of workers still have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet because they are paid so little.      

Overall, 77 percent of voters support changing how the government hires contractors, giving preference to those that pay their employees a living wage and offer benefits such as health care and sick leave.  There are few differences among voters regardless of partisanship or demographic characteristics.  Indeed, majorities on both the far left (liberal Democrats, 88 percent) and far right (conservative Republicans, 60 percent) favor the idea.  

It is not surprising that there is overwhelming support for raising the standard of living for low wage workers.  In our survey, 81 percent said inequality, the growing gap between the rich and everyone else, is a problem.  Even in a midterm that rejected Democratic governance, 4 deeply red states - South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska and Nebraska - easily passed an increase in the minimum wage.  Unsurprisingly, the president’s actions to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is backed by more than two thirds (71 percent) of Americans, including a majority of Republicans. 

Voters simply think that taxpayer dollars should support a living wage and benefits that would put millions of the working poor on a path to the middle class rather than pad CEO salaries and bonuses.  They can point to model employers such as Costco that are profitable while treating their workers fairly. 

A Model Employer executive order could make this a reality.  Most taxpayers, regardless of political inclinations believe that their hard earned money should be used to create good jobs, not keep workers in poverty.  Moreover, voters also believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that uses tax payer dollars to pay once for a contract for services, and then again for the public assistance and other services that the workers have to rely on to make ends meet.  

Its good politics, and good policy to make sure tax payer dollars are untilized in a way that is a benefit, and not a burden to the American people.  With a new Congress likely to continue grid locked for the next two years, the President has a great opportunity to lead by example. And with a general election looming in the horizon, candidates for office could start leaning into this issue a reap the benefits of addressing voter concerns directly.   


Image from Wikipedia.