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Marco Rubio and restoring the American Dream

In a previous post we quoted Republican United States Senator Marco Rubio on the need for an American economy that provides more middle class jobs. In an article for the Atlantic Rubio entitled America Needs to Restore Dignity of Work, Rubio writes:

There was once a path to a stable and prosperous life in America that has since closed off. It was a well-traveled path for many Americans: Graduate from high school and get a job, typically with a local manufacturer or one of the service industries associated with it, and earn enough to support a family. The idea was not only that it was possible to achieve this kind of success, but that anyone could achieve it—the American dream. That dream defines my family’s history, and its disappearance calls me to action today.

… To feel the absence of the American dream, and to desire to re-create an America in which it exists, is to experience nostalgia, but of a particular kind. It is not necessarily a desire for the old things, for low-tech assembly lines, male-only colleges, or debilitating labor disputes. It is a desire for an old promise, that no matter what America looks like or how it has changed, a stable and prosperous life should be attainable for the many. It’s an undying spirit that defines and unites us as Americans.

Rubio’s analysis of an economy no longer producing family-supporting jobs for those with no more than a high school diploma is exactly right. The Michigan Association of United Ways calculates that a family of two adults raising two children needs about $55,000 to pay for basic necessities. In 1967 the median household income for households headed by someone with a high school degree was $53,178 in today’s dollars. In 2017 the median household income for household headed by someone with a high school degree was $44,970. So over two generations the typical household headed by someone with a high school degree has seen their standard of living fall by more than $8,000.

Rubio’s goal of “a stable and prosperous life should be attainable for the many” is quite similar to Michigan Future’s core belief that state economic policy should have the mission of rising household income for all. The hope is that, across the ideological spectrum, we can come to an agreement that a low unemployment rate and/or strong economic growth with way too many households struggling to pay the bills and to save for retirement and the kids’ education is not success. We need to shift from a state economic policy focused on low unemployment to one that puts rising household income for all as its top priority.

Our ideas on how to achieve a rising household income for all are detailed in our A Path to Good-Paying Careers for all Michiganders reports. In those reports we identify increasing education attainment, creating places where people want to live and work, and shared prosperity as the policy levers that matter most. We understand that not everyone will agree with those levers or with the specific recommendations we make. Getting to the goal is what is important. We are open to any and all ideas on how achieve the goal.


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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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