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Congressman Mike Quigley

Representing the 5th District of Illinois

The Hill: Achieving the American Dream for Generations to Come

Jul 28, 2016
Editorials

The following article was published by The Hill on July 28, 2016. A link to the article can be found here.

By Rep. Mike Quigley

When I was sworn in to Congress in April of 2009, we were at the height of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Unemployment shot up to 10 percent, median household wealth plummeted by almost 40 percent and nearly five million homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since 2009. The unemployment rate is below five percent, household wealth now exceeds pre-crisis levels, and foreclosure rates are at pre-crisis levels. This economic progress has been hard, but it has been steady and it has been real. By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were before President Obama took office. 

At the same time, it’s indisputable that millions of Americans aren’t feeling the benefits of a growing economy. In fact, between 2009 and 2012, 91 percent of income gains went to those in the top one percent. And wages grew just 1.7 percent last year, the slowest rate since the 1960’s. This means it’s harder for middle-class Americans to climb the ladder of success, and even harder for poor Americans to grab hold of the lowest rung.

Historically, our economic greatness rests on a simple principle: When the middle class thrives, and when there is ample opportunity for those who work hard to climb into the middle class, then America thrives. But to expand our middle class today, we must adopt a combination of policies that tackle income inequality and accelerate economic growth so American workers and businesses can succeed in tomorrow’s economy.First, in order to address income inequality, Congress must enact policies that level the playing field so all Americans can compete fairly in today’s economy. This includes raising the minimum wage, providing paid family and sick leave, and protecting women and minorities from pay discrimination. The above mentioned policies will go a long way in ensuring that everyone has a fair shot to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. However, tough talk of breaking up “Too-Big-To-Fail” banks and significantly increasing taxes on the wealthy will only go so far in creating new opportunities for a middle-class struggling to compete in a fast-paced, global economy.

We also need to enact pro-growth policies that will ensure America is prepared for the economy of tomorrow, growing the entire economic pie and not just the size of the slices. We must do more to foster innovation, increase productivity, and boost our competitiveness. That requires us to do five things: reform our broken tax code; reduce our dangerous debt and deficits; significantly increase our investments in education, infrastructure, and research and development; expand exports overseas; and enact comprehensive immigration reform.

I was encouraged to see that the President’s 2017 budget proposes doing many of the things that I believe are necessary for economic growth. That includes doubling our investments in clean energy technologies, expanding technical training programs for high-quality middle class jobs, and implementing comprehensive immigration reform that will reduce the deficit by almost $1 trillion over two decades. These measures will go a long way in better preparing American businesses and middle-class families for the challenges of a 21st century economy, and I strongly encourage my colleagues in Congress to pass legislation to make these measures a reality.

By themselves, closing the income gap and promoting economic growth will not solve the dilemma of our shrinking middle class. But accomplished together, this strategy has the potential to unlock an enormous expansion of our middle class; the likes we haven’t seen since the 1990’s. Even through the difficult years, I still see the U.S. as that shining city upon a hill. By closing the income gap and promoting economic growth, Congress has the opportunity to allow future generations to achieve the American Dream, like so many before them.