There is a big difference to be made between the progressivism that once was the hall-mark of left-wing politics and the left-leaning wing of neo-liberalism. This article, focusing on how corporations–and I would add many colleges & universities–make use of the working poor is a good way for you to start learning how to tell the difference between a progressive and a neo-liberal.
The U.S. now has the highest proportion of low-wage workers in the developed world, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One in four make less than two-thirds of the median wage, which is the same proportion that rely on public aid. It’s becoming more widely accepted that the spread and persistence of low-wage work is behind rising income inequality and reduced social mobility. What’s less well known is the role Democrats have played in creating this trap.
In his widely admired speech on income inequality Dec. 4, President Obama seemed to share all of these concerns.
“We know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty,” he said.
Based largely on that speech, and some West Wing whispers, Politico announced Friday “President Obama turns left.” But outside of saying again that it’s time to raise the minimum wage, the president hasn’t yet put much meat on a “left” agenda for low wage workers.
It would also be nice for Obama to recognize: The fact that so many Americans “work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty,” receiving public assistance, is not just an unhappy accident. It’s the result of public policy supported by many Democrats — and he hasn’t done much to change or challenge it. In fact, the chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors has made the most spirited defense of it.
The truth is, a bipartisan consensus emerged in the 1990s, that a job, practically any job, was better than long-term public assistance for so-called “able-bodied” adults, including mothers with young children. It led to controversial 1996 welfare reform legislation that had ramifications way beyond the realm of welfare.
Republicans demanded work from welfare recipients; (most) Democrats went along, but demanded new support for low-wage workers: an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, wider Medicaid and food stamp eligibility, new (though not nearly sufficient) child care subsidies. (As an Illinois state senator, Obama was critical, but later endorsed the deal.) The new support programs also helped millions of low-wage workers who never relied on welfare; as wages continued to stagnate and even decline, more people became eligible.
But as labor advocates began to realize and protest the extent to which employers were relying on taxpayers to support their workforce a decade ago, some liberals told them not to worry about it.