A strong middle class has always been the cornerstone of our nation’s success. Unfortunately, middle class families are struggling today due to stagnating or decreasing incomes coupled with growing costs of housing, education, and health care – problems exacerbated by misguided government policies. Hardworking parents shouldn’t have to choose between supporting their children and retiring with dignity. America’s GDP has expanded the most when the middle class was steadily growing; conversely, a shrinking middle class holds back economic growth and increases our budget deficits. To grow the economy in a way that's fair to the middle-class we need to raise the minimum wage, ask the wealthiest income earners to pay their fair share in taxes, and close special interest driven corporate tax loopholes.
My commitment to working men and women is one of the driving forces behind my decision to enter public service. I stood side-by-side with working families when the National United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant was closing down, marched and advocated for better working conditions with Justice for Janitors, and supported local, statewide, and national efforts to raise the minimum wage. This fight is not just about fairness – it’s about economic opportunity and competitiveness. We are a stronger nation when we have the right workplace policies, and as a member of Congress, growing the middle class will always be my priority.
Increase the Minimum Wage. A higher minimum wage tied to inflation is essential for growing the middle class and for America’s economic prosperity. Congress has never provided an automatic adjustment for inflation, and the minimum wage’s real value has steeply declined. Boosting the minimum wage will help restore consumer spending and generate business growth.
We should raise the minimum wage to $15 – what it would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years – and index it to inflation thereafter. In the Bay Area where the cost of living is especially high, it is essential for workers to have a baseline of economic security so they can provide for themselves and their families. I am encouraged to see that raising the minimum wage is gaining bipartisan support and I am committed to working with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to make sure people working full-time in minimum wage jobs can support their families.
Improve training programs for mid-career workers. While canvassing in Fremont, I spoke to a woman who had worked as an administrative assistant for her entire career but was laid off a few years ago. Since then, she has been unable to find work because her technology skills are outdated.
We’re no longer operating in an economy that allows people to work for 30 years at the same job and retire with a pension. Structural changes in the economy make retraining efforts more important than ever. Many workers have expertise in their fields, but do not have affordable opportunities to update their skills. The government has an imperative to make sure that job skills training programs are available to older workers. It’s vital that we increase investment in retraining efforts and support public-private partnerships at our community colleges to get workers the skills they need.
Implement a hiring credit for the long-term unemployed. Too many hardworking Americans who have valuable experience and skills are unemployed for long periods of time because although they are searching, they cannot find jobs. Businesses that operate in areas with high unemployment that hire long-term unemployed workers, middle career workers, out of work veterans, and people receiving the federal earned income tax credit should receive a hiring credit for helping put qualified Americans back on the job.
Implement mandatory paid sick days. Currently, federal law does not guarantee workers the right to paid sick days. As a result, 23% of adults report either being threatened with losing their job or being fired for taking time off when they or a family member get sick. Adults without access to paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with a contagious infection or disease, costing the economy $160 billion each year in decreased productivity.
We should guarantee workers the ability to accrue up to seven job-protected, paid sick days per year. This change would provide greater job security to millions of Americans and reduce worker turnover – two changes that would strengthen the middle class.
Simplify the tax code. Over the past 30 years, Congress has designed tax policy that benefits the top one percent of Americans at the expense of working people and their families. The primary goal of any tax code should be to incentivize growth, promote fairness, and raise the revenue necessary to fund public services and critical investments.
As a member of Congress, I will push for comprehensive tax reform to curtail ballooning inequality and make tax credit compliance easier for working families and small businesses. The growth of special deductions, exclusions, and tax breaks for the wealthy increase the time and resources individuals must spend on calculations and documentation requirements to pay their taxes. Congress also needs to reform the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) to protect middle class taxpayers, rather than issue short-term fixes that put hard working families at risk of massive tax hikes every year. What we have right now is an antiquated tax regime that is unfair, hurts our competitiveness, and has been manipulated repeatedly by narrow special interests. I am committed to working across the aisle to make sure we take lobbyists out of writing the tax code and level the playing field for all Americans.
Advocate for American workers. I have worked with unions in several capacities – including helping United Automobile Workers (UAW) secure a $333,000 federal grant for worker retraining programs in Fremont, fighting for fair contracts for janitors with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and protesting unfair labor practices with SEIU airport employees in Oakland. While serving in the Department of Commerce, I pushed to give labor unions a seat at the table as the department discussed long-term economic strategies to improve America’s competitiveness. For our economy to flourish, businesses and unions need to work cooperatively.
Unions help to strengthen the middle class – they negotiate fair wages and benefits for workers, and ensure they have safe working environments. As a member of Congress, I will look for ways to bring labor unions and businesses together to create profitable companies where workers and investors thrive – just as I did at the Commerce Department.
Make saving for retirement easier and more secure. In addition to Social Security, which provides a baseline of income, middle class Americans depend on private retirement accounts to maintain their standard of living. However, estimates indicate that 59% of middle class retirees will outlive their retirement savings.
We need to expand retirement coverage and improve the quality of available retirement plans. I will push to reform 401(k)s to increase the amount workers are able to save, and to make the plan more secure so that hardworking Americans can retire with peace of mind.
Support Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Right now we have an opportunity to significantly improve conditions for an estimated 200,000 domestic workers who still don’t have the same basic protections as those in other sectors. California’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would extend overtime pay to in-home domestic employees, almost all of whom are women making less than those working outside the home. Although this legislation won’t fix the wage gap immediately, it will ensure fairer pay and provide a sense of security for employees who are repeatedly undercompensated for working more than the standard workweek.
Paying higher wages will stabilize the labor supply for domestic service by attracting more qualified people to assume and remain in these jobs. In addition to helping the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers and the people they care for, the Bill of Rights will boost wages across the economy, barring the domestic sector from undercutting wages for other jobs. With widespread benefits, it’s clear that this legislation is a step toward providing American workers with what they need most: a raise.