Opinion

opinion | Bernie Sanders

The war on the middle class

Occupy Wall Street protesters walked past the New York Stock Exchange.

AP/file 2012

Occupy Wall Street protesters walked past the New York Stock Exchange.

Here is the reality of the American economy. Despite an explosion in technology and a huge increase in worker productivity, the middle class continues its 40-year decline. Today, millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well. Today, 99 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent, while the top one-tenth of 1 percent own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in this country increased their wealth by $157 billion. That increase is more than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans – combined.

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Over the last 40 years, the largest corporations in this country have closed thousands of factories in the United States and outsourced millions of American jobs to low-wage countries overseas. That is why we need a new trade policy and why I am opposed to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership now before Congress.

Large corporations and their lobbyists have created loopholes enabling corporations to avoid an estimated $100 billion a year in taxes by shifting profits to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens. That is why we need real tax reform which demands that the very wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

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Corporate America has mounted vigorous anti-union campaigns, making it harder for workers to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits. That is why we must make certain that workers are given a fair chance to join a union.

Meanwhile, US companies are buying back billions of dollars of their own stock in a way that manipulates stock prices, hurts the economy and, by the way, used to be against the law.

Instead of putting resources into innovative ways to build their businesses or hire new employees, corporations are pumping their record-breaking profits into buying back their own stock and increasing dividends to benefit their executives and wealthy shareholders at the expense of their workers. It is a major reason why CEOs are now making nearly 300 times what the typical worker makes. We must demand an end to stock buybacks.

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We also must do a lot more to rebuild the middle class, check corporate greed, and make our economy work again for working families.

We need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next several years. With 70 percent of the economy dependent on consumers buying goods and services, the best way to expand the economy is to raise wages and create good jobs to increase the purchasing power of the American people.

We need to pass pay equity for women workers. It is not acceptable that women receive 78 cents on the dollar compared to male workers doing the same job.

We need to make certain that every worker in this country receives guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time.

We need to encourage business models that provide employees the tools to purchase their own businesses through Employee Stock Ownership Plans and worker-owned cooperatives. Workers at employer-owned companies are more motivated, productive, and satisfied with their jobs.

It is time to say loudly and clearly that corporate greed and the war against the American middle class must end. Enough is enough!

Bernie Sanders is a senator from Vermont and a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Related:

Divided Nation: Feast for investors sells workers short

Scot Lehigh: GOP’s economic theories and real-world realities

Dante Ramos: Unsexy but tech-forward industries offer hope to middle class

Jodi Beggs: Who is actually the middle class?

Marc Miles: Low interest rates actually hurt the middle class

Joanna Weiss: A path to the middle class, via hotel work

Ideas: Who’s poor? Depends how you measure it

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