Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The state of Washington's working families

With the economy still struggling, unemployment increasing, and a continued strain on social services dealing with budget constraints while demand for services skyrockets, the Economic Opportunity Institute recently released a report on the status of working families in Washington in 2009. Some background from the report:
Compounding the economic stress on families, over the course of the decade fewer employers provided health insurance and other benefits, more health care costs were shifted to individuals, college tuition shot up relative to median income, and the cost of buying a home skyrocketed.

While the majority struggle, a few are doing extraordinarily well. Some highly paid fields, most notably computer software publishing, have grown briskly since 2000. Those at the top of the income spectrum have by and large prospered. Workers earning at the 80th percentile and above have enjoyed real increases in their incomes over the past decade despite the roller coaster economy. Thus inequality has continued to grow, as it has since 1980. In contrast, throughout the middle decades of the 20th century inequality lessened while the middle class grew. Now wealth is once again as highly concentrated in the hands of a few as it was in the late 1920s.
To be fair, the report also notes that comparatively speaking, Washington residents have generally fared better than those of other states. But if no state is doing well in this recession, and none are, is it better to be the best of the bad or the best that we can be? At the Northwest Progressive Institute, we subscribe to the Paul Wellstone ideal that "we all do better when we all do better." That means that being the best of the worst isn't good enough for us or the citizens of our state, which is why we fight for a better tomorrow.

So how do we get there? The Economic Opportunity Institute came to the following conclusions in its report:
  1. Expand investments in education from early learning through college and roll back excessive tuition increases that have limited access to higher education for some.
  2. Restore cuts to the state's Basic Health Plan, establish Retirement Investment Security Accounts, mandate paid sick leave by employers, as well as, funding and expanding the family and medical leave insurance program yet to be fully implemented or funded by the legislature.
  3. Generate new revenue immediately by taxing various products such as gum, candy, baked goods, pop syrup and by taking steps to reform the tax structure of the state.
Nothing drives the economy like a well-educated, well-trained workforce. In order to have that workforce, there must be opportunity and access to an affordable, high-quality education system for the masses, not just for preparing young people for careers but also for providing job re-training for older, more established workers. Cutting opportunity and access to education, by increasing tuition, only makes it harder for the economy to rebound.

With regard to taxes, we would add that a comprehensive review of all state giveaways of the common wealth (commonly called tax incentives) must be completed to determine which are providing a concrete benefit to the state and those that are not should be immediately eliminated. Our common wealth should not be squandered if our communities or state receive no benefit.


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