The Question 55 Million American Workers Have For The Next U.S. President
By Saket Soni
On Wednesday, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will share the stage for their last debate before the presidential election. Donald Trump is sure to face questions about the allegations of sexual assault he faces from more than a dozen women. Hillary Clinton is certain to face continued questions over her private email server during her time as Secretary of State. But there’s another question both candidates should both face — one that affects of tens of millions of Americans and makes national headlines nearly every day, but has yet to draw comment from either candidate.
The question is: how do you plan to guarantee economic security for workers in our nation as work changes and America’s workers become increasingly insecure?
The American economy is undergoing a fundamental transformation. As President Obama has himself acknowledged, the old deal between workers, employers, and government is breaking down. Workers can no longer count on the kinds of permanent full-time jobs that brought benefits and long-term stability to previous generations. American voters know this: the insurgencies in both major political parties during the primaries were in part an expression of public frustration with our country’s broken social contract.
Our current safety net originated in the 1930s. It helped build the white middle class — but they also deliberately excluded the very workers who are now becoming the new working majority in the U.S.: gig-to-gig workers, immigrant workers, workers of color, and women.
In addition to these demographic shifts, non-traditional work arrangements are on the rise. The U.S. Government Accountability Office says that more than 40% of U.S. workers are “contingent” in one form or another — meaning they’re agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call workers, day laborers, part-time workers or independent contractors. Long-term unemployment is near historic highs, and ever-more-rapid technological change threatens to hollow out entire industries through automation.
U.S. workers are facing a new generation of challenges. We need to protect the safety net and social protections we already have, but we also need a new generation of guarantees based on the needs of 2016, rather than those of 1936.
Here are a few questions about the next social contract that tens of millions of U.S. workers need answered mostly urgently.
On America’s new workforce:
What will you do to make sure that the tens of millions of U.S. workers who are already part of the contingent or “gig” economy can access basic benefits like health insurance, worker’s compensation, unemployment, paid leave and sick days, and retirement savings plans — even while going from gig to gig?
Women make up 47% of the U.S. workforce today, and that number is projected to grow. Women also surpass men in educational achievement, but continue to earn only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. How will you ensure that women can finally achieve full equity in the workplace?
On immigration and its impacts on US workers:
Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump have been sharply divided on immigration — but haven’t yet faced a question on immigration policy in a presidential debate.
Secretary Clinton: The fear of deportation holds many of them back from reporting abuse on the job — including wage theft and sexual harassment. As a result, job standards fall not just for the immigrant workers, but also for the U.S. born workers alongside them. How will you protect undocumented immigrant workers so they can seek fairness at work?
Mr. Trump: You’ve proposed the mass deportation of immigrants. Leaving aside for a moment the human rights catastrophe that will ensue, the Social Security Administration has estimated that undocumented immigrants have paid $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade. What’s your plan for making up that amount in the next decade, after you deport undocumented immigrants?
On wage theft:
The hundreds of workers alleging wage theft by Donald Trump are among millions more who face wage theft by their employers in industries from construction to hospitality to retail and beyond.
Mr. Trump: Will you pay back the money you owe these workers? Secretary Clinton: How will you support state and federal labor enforcement agencies so that they can ensure that workers are paid what they’re owed?
On racial justice and long-term unemployment:
Both your platforms call for major investment in infrastructure. Publicly funded construction is a job creator — but one that often excludes local workers, women, and people of color. How will you ensure that your infrastructure investments give excluded workers a fair opportunity to build their careers, lives, and communities?
On the possibility that technology will disrupt and displace jobs:
As the era of full time, predictable, long term employment comes to an end, how will you work toward making basic economic security a human right?
The candidates may not face these questions during the final presidential debate on Wednesday night. But they should — because the next occupant of the White House will be facing them every day.
Saket Soni is Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance.