A Bold New Idea to Boost Wages

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

The challenges are well known: Working Americans are struggling to keep up with the increasing cost of living. Unemployment is low, but wages of most Americans have remained flat. More than three-quarters of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. Most can’t afford a $500 emergency.

There’s a simple and bold solution that would cost about as much as the Trump tax cut. But instead of helping corporations and the rich, it would help millions of working and middle-class Americans by putting money directly in their pockets.

I’m talking about expanding something called the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. And although it’s been around for decades, it can be the basis of a revolutionary change in the lives of millions of people. 

As it now stands, the EITC gives thousands of dollars to the working poor, with the amount of money they receive gradually decreasing as their earnings rise until they reach a cap, which is now a little over $50,000.

It works so well because it directly boosts the incomes of people who need it the most. Cash gives people freedom and dignity— the power to decide, for example, whether to have their car repaired or buy new shoes for their kids or save for a rainy day. 

When working people have money to spend, they spend most of it in the communities they live in. This, in turn, causes businesses to hire more people to meet the demand. It’s a virtuous cycle that lessens poverty, makes the tax code fairer, and boosts the overall economy.

A bold new idea would be to expand this successful program in 4 simple ways:

First: Raise the maximum amount that very poor Americans receive from the Earned Income Tax Credit by several thousand dollars. This would dramatically reduce poverty in all families with someone who works full time. 

Right now, a job at a $15 minimum wage plus Medicaid and food stamps still doesn’t meet basic needs in much of America. Raising the Earned Income Tax Credit would ensure that every family with a full-time worker is out of poverty.

Second: Extend the Earned Income Tax Credit into the middle class, so even families earning the median family income – which was just about $76,000 in 2017 – will benefit. This would be a huge help to working-class families, many of whom are now one paycheck away from poverty.

Third: Expand the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit to two groups of Americans who are working hard, but not necessarily collecting paychecks: people (most of whom are women) who are caring for a child or for a senior in their family, and low-income students.

Fourth: Let people receive this money each month rather than in a lump-sum once a year at tax time, so it helps with monthly expenses – rent, food, education – or can be saved to build a financial cushion.

Presto. We create a kind of cost-of-living refund to lift the incomes of a third of Americans, the people who need it most, and we also include the working class and lower middle class. 

At the same time, we begin to rewrite the tax code in favor of ordinary Americans, instead of large corporations and the wealthy. 

Eighty-three percent of the benefits of the Trump tax cuts will go to the top 1 percent of Americans by 2027. Expanding and modernizing the Earned Income Tax Credit can help put things back in balance.

It’s simple. It’s fair. It’s necessary. It’s big and bold. Enlarge and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. 

***

Reposted from Robert Reich

Robert Reich served as the nation’s 22nd Secretary of Labor and now is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, is now in bookstores. His earlier book, “Supercapitalism,” is out in paperback. For copies of his articles, books, and public radio commentaries, go to www.RobertReich.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

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