I first met Bonnie in 2013 when she was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly. When Rush Holt decided to run for the U.S. Senate, Bonnie won his House seat. It’s hard for a politician in New Jersey to serve in elected office without getting contaminated for the state’s corrupt machine politics. Both Rush Holt and Bonnie Watson Coleman escaped that. In her case, she became the first African American woman to win election to Congress. Last week she wrote an OpEd for the Star-Ledger, recalling how she— along with AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley and Andy Levin were arrested in front of the Supreme Court protesting the reversal of Roe v Wade. “What,” she wrote, “does freedom truly mean if we do not have ownership over our bodies? What democracy can we speak of? As we look ahead to the midterm elections, our right to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy hangs in the balance– a human right is now in the hands of individual states and lawmakers’ whims.” She looked at another aspect of democracy for us today, the role growing economic inequality plays in the diminution of our system and our society.
Building an Economy for All
-by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman
With prices on the rise, Americans are struggling to afford everything from gas to groceries. Inflation will be front-of-mind for voters this year, and understandably so.
Prices are higher now than they were a year ago. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that inflation is a worldwide phenomenon. Inflation is a problem, but to portray it as our economy’s most glaring weakness is at best myopic and at worst deceptive.
American workers were in pain long before our recovery from the Trump-era COVID economic collapse. The sad truth is that our country’s support of the workers who carry it on their backs has been sporadic at best. While billionaires can afford to buy social media platforms or fly to space on a whim, their employees who helped make them rich are often forced to choose which of their human needs they will forgo this month– their medication or electric bills. The rich live in an entirely different world than the workers who keep our country running. Of course, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Inequality has been a feature of the American economy since the days of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Despite progress in the middle of the 20th Century to shrink the gap between the rich and poor, the chasm has grown in the last 40 years and will continue to grow unless something changes.
Those who believe that merely “reducing inflation” is the be-all, end-all solution to the current plight of the American worker are failing to address the very thing that has made our economy inhospitable to workers for generations: the near-complete lack of a social safety net. If we want our economy to work for working people, we must reinstate, revitalize, and reinvest in social programs that have had proven, transformative impacts on those who need them and the country at-large.
Perhaps the most recent example of such a program is the expanded Child Tax Credit, which President Biden and Congressional Democrats enacted under the American Rescue Plan. In just months, these payments cut child poverty by almost half, and when those checks stopped, so too did those families’ sense of financial security. When Senator Manchin and every single Senate Republican ended this program, they forced 3.7 million children back into poverty. This was a policy choice— a policy choice our government has made time and time again with few exceptions. We need to choose better.
The road to an economy for all goes beyond shoring up extant or previously enacted social programs. While anti-poverty initiatives like the Child Tax Credit, Social Security, and Medicare are among the most successful social programs in American history, they did not eliminate poverty entirely. Ending poverty may sound like the stuff of utopian thinking, but in a nation as wealthy as ours, we have the means to accomplish it. To do so, we must build a floor beneath which we allow no American to fall.
The recent success of the Child Tax Credit, not to mention 87 years of Social Security, proved that monthly, unconditional cash payments have the power to be a lifeline for working Americans. It’s time we extended this benefit to all who need it. Through a guaranteed monthly income program, we could ensure that all working-class and low-income Americans are never again forced to choose between buying life-saving medication or paying their rent. With the support of economists ranging from Milton Friedman to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and political leaders like President Richard Nixon, guaranteed income is hardly a radical far-left policy proposal. That’s because the principle that no human being should be too poor to live was not political or controversial. Everyone has the right to have their most basic needs met, and a government with the resources of ours has no excuse not to protect that right.
Social safety net programs like guaranteed income are not anti-inflationary measures. On its own, bringing prices down would undoubtedly give Americans some much-needed financial relief. However, during times when prices were lower, working people still struggled financially, and poverty remained a largely unaddressed issue.
While Democrats remain committed to bringing down kitchen-table costs, we’re also thinking beyond that. Through legislation like the Social Security 2100 Act and the health care provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re committed to strengthening Social Security and Medicare to ensure that our senior citizens can live with dignity. We’re also fighting to bring back the expanded Child Tax Credit and make it permanent. On top of this, I’ve introduced the Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Act, which would begin the process of establishing a monthly guaranteed income program.
I believe in a future where all Americans have the freedom to thrive and no American lives in constant fear of financial ruin. My Republican colleagues, on the other hand, have no desire to realize such a vision. They ended the expanded Child Tax Credit in January and they’ve now expressed their desire to slash Social Security and Medicare if they take control of Congress, even threatening to tank the economy if they don’t get their way. It’s abundantly clear which party truly represents the working class— and it’s not the party that claims to have the interests of “Real America” at heart. An economy that works for everyone is possible, but only American voters have the power to choose whether our nation takes a step toward that future.