Making Ends Meet: How Should We Spread Prosperity and Improve Opportunity?

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For many Americans, the recovery from the 2007 recession, a recovery that officially began in 2009, feels very remote, or nonexistent. Even as the stock market surges and millions of jobs have been created, they see a very different picture. Many Americans still believe in the basic notion that anyone who works hard should be able to support a family and get ahead. What can we do to make that happen?

This issue guide presents three options for deliberation:

Create New Opportunities

We should make it easier for people to start new enterprises that will improve their circumstances. Whether it’s starting a house painting business on the side or opening a restaurant, when individuals start new firms, it helps spur economic growth. More skilled tradespeople are needed, for example, as construction bounces back. Half of all private-sector jobs in the US are at small businesses, and in recent years small businesses have supplied two-thirds of all new jobs.

Strengthen the Safety Net

We should secure and expand safeguards so that changes in the economy don’t push people into poverty or leave families with children homeless or hungry. In the last decade, millions of people found themselves unemployed or underemployed with few or no benefits, sometimes indefinitely. Fewer people work with one company for decades, employee benefits have shrunk, technology and globalization have eliminated jobs, and more people are employed in freelance work. We need to make sure people will not face catastrophic losses as they adapt to these changes. To do this, we should strengthen the unemployment insurance program, protect workers’ retirement, and make benefits more portable.

Reduce Inequality

We should shrink the income gap. Today, the richest 10 percent of the country’s population earn more than half of its total income. It is not right that CEOs make hundreds of times more than their employees, even as their companies cut workers’ hours to avoid paying overtime and offering benefits. Some inequality helps drive people to succeed and become wealthier, but if people can’t move into or stay in the middle class, or if the wealthy manipulate the system to their benefit, then we all lose. To reduce the large gaps between the very rich and the rest of society, schools should be funded more equally, we should do more to control college costs, and people who don’t go to college should be able to get decent-paying jobs that allow them to stay in the middle class.

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