The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Christy Setzer 202-730-7349

For Workers, American Dream Has Become a Nightmare

Stern, Burger Say Business and Politicians Have Failed American Workers, Call for Bold New Solutions to Fix Economy and Create a 21st Century American Dream


On the eve of President Obama's State of the Union address, leaders of the nation's largest union of low-wage workers spoke out on the State of the American Worker and the economic nightmare most working families now face. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, arguing that both business and elected officials have failed working families, called for a bold approach to helping Americans build a 21st Century American Dream that would create jobs, improve existing ones, and hold banks and financial institutions accountable.

At an event at the Center for American Progress to discuss the state of the American workforce, Stern and Burger argued that the typical markers of the American Dream- including home ownership, retirement security, and a job you can count on- are increasingly out of reach for most Americans.

"For workers everywhere, the American Dream has become a nightmare. We're working longer hours for less pay, losing our homes, our healthcare, and our retirement security. We don't know whether we'll be able to provide a better life for our kids. And the aughts - maybe we should call them the 'Naughts' -- were a lost decade for American workers. By every measure working families care about, they're worse off now than they were 10 years ago. Working families are angry, and they have everyone to blame: politicians and corporations completely failed them," said Stern.

Stern cited a series of statistics showing the dire situation for workers: Economic growth has slowed after decades of rapid increases. Worker productivity has increased, while compensation has remained flat. The numbers of currently unemployed and underemployed-27 million-are equal to the population of 18 states.

"We need a new 'Contract with America,'" said Burger. "Taxpayers need a contract from Big Banks, from politicians, and from businesses that allows workers to build a 21st Century American Dream."

Burger outlined a series of steps for needed reform, including SEIU's jobs plan, holding banks accountable, and systemic financial reform.

SEIU's jobs program will create millions of jobs in the short term and lay the groundwork for a sustainable economy that rebuilds the American dream. It focuses on extending unemployment benefits, including COBRA; expanding federal infrastructure and green jobs investments, dramatically increasing aid to states and localities, a public job program, a new commitment to workforce training and a tax credit to employers who reduce hours but do not lay off workers.

On financial reform, Burger called for a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency and to end the practice of "Too Big To Fail." Burger argued that we could pay for the plan through several measures, including a tax on bank bonuses and by levying fees on banks who don't repay their TARP loans.

"Half measures won't do it. Bold change, big choices and broad vision are what I passionately believe is needed to put America back on track," continued Burger.

With 2 million members in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in the Americas. Focused on uniting workers in healthcare, public services and property services, SEIU members are winning better wages, healthcare and more secure jobs for our communities, while uniting their strength with their counterparts around the world to help ensure that workers--not just corporations and CEOs--benefit from today's global economy.