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Democrats Will Ignore Broad Progressive Reforms at Their Peril

After a decade in which it lost more than 900 federal and state elections, the Wall Street-dominated wing of the Democratic Party continues to insist on adherence to a political path that landed them in wilderness in Washington and most state capitols

We need comprehensive solutions animated by a genuine vision of social change, not business as usual. (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr/cc)

We need comprehensive solutions animated by a genuine vision of social change, not business as usual. (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr/cc)

In the wake of an earth rattling mid-term election that brought a change in leadership in the House and seven governor’s offices, debate has picked up again over the political direction of the Democratic Party as it picks itself up off the floor.

After a decade in which it lost more than 900 federal and state elections, the Wall Street-dominated wing of the Democratic Party continues to insist on adherence to a political path that landed them in wilderness in Washington and most state capitols.

But, it would be a serious misread of the election results to assume that voters, including those disgusted with the Trump Administration and its acolytes in Congress, will reward Democrats in the next election cycle if they settle for band aid adjustment to the pervasive crisis faced by tens of millions of people abandoned by decades of neoliberal policies pursued by both major parties.

Staggering income and wealth inequality, millions still handcuffed in low paying jobs, appalling levels of homelessness, poverty and food insecurity, gaping inequities in health care, education, and housing, a climate crisis rapidly spinning out of control, and systemic racism affecting nearly every walk of life, demand real, comprehensive solutions animated by a genuine vision of social change, not business as usual.

If Democrats fail to respond, voters will remember, political disaffection and cynicism will grow, no matter how disgusted millions are by the disgraceful actions and policies of President Trump, and the next election could easily look like 2010, 2014, or 2016, not 2018.

Consider the scope of just some of the emergencies facing our families, communities and nation:

Income and Wealth Inequality

Employment

  • Declining official jobless numbers only count workers who have looked for a job in the last four weeks, not discouraged workers who have given up trying to find decent jobs and part time workers who would prefer full time jobs.        
  • Jobless data ignores how many people, especially those of lower incomes, are working more than one, sometimes multiple jobs, and longer hours.
  • Black male employment is 11-15 points lower than whites. The jobless rate is also higher for Latinos, Native Americans, women, and young people, and in rural areas.
  • If employment was booming, employers theoretically should have to pay higher wages to attract candidates. But wage growth remains flat, one reason for rising income inequality 

Health care

  • Average life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for the third year in a row in 2017, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the longest downturn since the Spanish flu wiped out more than 50 million people a century ago.
  • Babies born in the U.S. are 76 percent more likely to die before their first birthday than babies born in comparable countries, Canada, France, and Japan.
  • The average family premium has increased 55 percent since 2008, twice as fast as worker’s wages and three times as fast as inflation. Average deductibles have shot up 212 percent since 2008.
  • People of color comprise 55 percent of the uninsured. African-Americans have higher death rates at earlier age due to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV, and infant mortality than whites. Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than whites. 

Hunger/Food Insecurity

Housing

Poverty

  • In 2017, the official poverty rate was 13.4 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, an annual income of $28,100 for a family of four, officially 40 million to 45 million Americans.
  • In 38 metro areas at least one in five residents live in poverty, 17 are in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, or West Virginia.
  • The percentage of families of living on half that income, in constant dollars, has nearly doubled since 1975
  • Poverty rates among African-Americans and Hispanics remain above 20 percent, far outpacing the poverty rate of 9.8 percent for the white, non-Hispanic population. 

Environmental Justice

  • The heat wave season has expanded by more than 40 days since the 1960s as extreme hot weather is becoming more common.
  • Climate change has doubled the devastation from wildfires in the Western U.S., increasing the death rate, as seen in recent California wildfires, and lingering health consequences. Warmer ocean and sea waters have intensified super storms, including hurricanes, as evidenced recently in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and typhoons.   
  • An estimated 7 million people die every year from air pollution via pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, lung cancer, and heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.
  • People of color have higher exposure to toxic pollutants at home, and in schools.

Mass Incarceration

Education

  • Nearly 70 years since Brown v Board of Education, school segregation remains nearly as pervasive, especially in urban areas with larger concentrations of people of color, as white flight suburbs “secede” from urban county school districts creating their own school districts that receive higher funding, or just channel students into charter, magnet or private schools.
  • High-poverty districts spend 15.6 percent less per student than low-poverty districts do.
  • Black children, especially boys, are far more likely to be disciplined than whites with suspensions, referral to law enforcement, expulsion, corporal punishment, school-related arrest. Racial disparity in discipline is even more pronounced in magnet and charter schools.
  • People of color are in higher percentages in community colleges and for-profit colleges – and in lower percentage in higher profile colleges and universities which also affects post-graduate earnings and employment opportunities.

Voter Suppression

  • Since the 2013 5-4 Supreme Court rollback on a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, more than three dozen states have enacted laws and practices intended to curb voting, especially by people of color, low income people, and students.
  • Up to 16 million voters were purged from voting rolls between 2014 and 2016. ruling.
  • 15,000 polling places closed in predominantly minority communities and on college campuses the past few years.
  • A federal study recently identified five tactics of voter suppression – voter ID and proof of citizenship, which millions, especially low-income and senior citizens do not have, voter purges, cuts in early voting, and closure of polling places, all of which had a major impact in recent elections in Georgia, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, and many other states. 

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Chuck Idelson

Chuck Idelson is the Communications Senior Strategist for National Nurses United, the nation's largest union and professional organization of registered nurses with 150,000 members.

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