Our country has fallen into a tailspin of poverty and inequality. In my home state of New Jersey our poverty rate is the highest it’s been in 50 years. Since 1980, only New York and Connecticut have outpaced the growth of New Jersey’s income inequality. Almost one-third of New Jerseyans are struggling to afford basic necessities. Like many Americans they juggle which bills to pay and which to skip: rent, utilities, food, medication. More than one million people in our state don’t have enough food.
Finding affordable housing is the Achilles heel for many New Jersey residents in a state that has the sixth-highest housing costs in the nation. A New Jersey minimum wage worker would have to work 18 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The average renter in Cumberland County earns about $10.50 an hour in an area where a fair market two-bedroom rents for $1129 a month; this means that an average renter who is working full-time is putting more than half their income towards rent.
In New Jersey - as in the rest of our country - more and more have less while less and less have more.
This type of rampant deprivation isn’t because our country is poor. Quite the contrary, our country is one of the richest in the world; it’s just criminally unequal. Nationally, the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. In New Jersey, the average income of the top 1% - those earning over $1.5 million a year - is 27 times greater than the average income of the bottom 99%.
And at this moment, at this juncture between despair and hope for our communities, Senator Bernie Sanders has intervened. Throughout his career - whether as mayor, Congressman or Senator - he has worked to support and enact progressive policies to stem the exponential growth between the haves and have-nots; his efficacy has earned him the nickname the “Amendment King.” His presidential platform, an extension of his life’s work to further economic and racial justice, proposes extending certain fundamental protections and opportunities to every American:
Free Tuition at Public Universities: Since 2008, the average tuition at a public, four-year college in New Jersey has increased by 17 percent. Tuition for New Jersey residents at Rutgers-New Brunswick, our state university, is about $14,000 a year.
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But many countries, including Germany, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, offer free college to all of their citizens. Free tuition was not always such a foreign concept (pun intended) in our country. The University of California offered free tuition until the 1980s and in the 1960s many colleges were free, including the City College of New York.
Senator Sanders has proposed that every public college and university offer free tuition. So how would Senator Sanders fund this plan? Well, remember: we’re not a poor country just an unequal one. His plan would be paid for by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators. (Forty countries have already imposed a similar tax.)
Healthcare as a Human Right: Thankfully more people have access to healthcare due to Obamacare. But 29 million people are still uninsured and many Americans with insurance struggle to afford their copayments and medications, or go without needed mental health or dental care.
Senator Sanders has proposed a plan to make our healthcare system more efficient, cost effective, and humane by expanding Medicare to every American. (For details on how it will be funded and administered please check this out.) Under his proposal, health coverage is separated from employment and is instead administered through the federal government, as is the practice in several European countries. It would cover all aspects of healthcare from preventive to emergency to mental health to dental to substance abuse. A family of four making $50,000 annually would pay $466 a year under his plan.
Dignity for Workers: In July 2015 Senator Sanders introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 which would increase the wages of about half of African-Americans and close to 60 percent of Latinos. Ensuring that every worker makes a living wage has been a core tenet of his presidential platform.
The US is one of three countries in the world in which new mothers are not guaranteed paid leave after the birth of their child. As president, Senator Sanders will work to require employers provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; two weeks of paid vacation; and 7 days of paid sick days.
Taken in an international context, or even our own historical context, these proposals are far from revolutionary; if enacted they would put us in step with much of the world. But what is revolutionary is how they would lift millions of Americans out of poverty, shrink the growing gap between rich and poor, and, simply, essentially, make our country more humane. On June 7, that is the type of revolution I will be voting for when I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders in the New Jersey primary.