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ICYMI: Rubio: America Needs to Restore Dignity of Work
America Needs to Restore Dignity of Work
By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
December 13, 2018
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 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.
In 1956, my parents left behind a life of poverty in Cuba when they departed Havana with my 7-year-old brother for New York, and then for Miami soon after. My father started off taking whatever day jobs he could find before eventually becoming a bartender for most of his career, working various other jobs during the gaps. Once my younger sister and I were old enough, my mother started working again as a maid.
Between their two salaries and my dad’s tips, they made a good living, and I had a privileged childhood. My parents made enough to own a house, raise four children, and even allow my mother to spend most of her time at home when I was young. I was able to play football, go to college, and earn a law degree, because of the solid foundation built on the sacrifices my parents made for me and my siblings.
At some moments in our history, this sort of upward mobility has proved elusive. But when the United States has enjoyed booming new industries that offer good-paying jobs to large numbers of people, effective institutions of training and assimilation, and a strong communal spirit of aid and shared purpose, such opportunities have been broadly shared.
Today, though, outside of a few concentrated pockets of high growth in digital technology, American industrial innovation has slowed and workers in once-populous industrial regions have lost stable employment. For increasing numbers of Americans, enrolling at a four-year college is more likely to lead to debt and ambiguity than to a clear and productive career. Local organizations that once provided workers with a sense of representation and community, such as unions, have seen their memberships and budgets decline into near-oblivion.
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.
I’m proud that my mother and father could provide, through their hard work and commitment to our family, the opportunity for me and my siblings to flourish. They came to America in a time of prosperity, when working-class immigrants could assimilate and thrive alongside Americans whose families had been here for generations.
When I was born, in the early 1970s, the median income for families like mine, with a few kids and parents with only high-school degrees, was nearly two and a half times the poverty line. Today it’s less than one parent’s paycheck away from the poverty line. Simply put, if my family faced the exact same circumstances today, we would not be middle class; we would be falling behind. And if hardworking Americans don’t have stable jobs that pay enough to buy a home and raise a family, our nation is in very serious trouble.
Many policy makers in Washington and commentators in New York realize that the 21st-century economy is causing deep disruptions to Americans’ work lives, and that something new must be done to help them succeed. The debate over the “future of work,” though, is too often concerned with what workers need to do in order to become more useful to businesses, placing the responsibility of adjusting to automation and outsourcing by pursuing job retraining on workers themselves. In the process, the discussion absolves government and business of any responsibility for creating an economy that exists to benefit working Americans.
Read the rest here.