Ensuring a Broad Economic Recovery
As the economy begins to improve, our challenge is to ensure that the recovery works for all Americans, rather than being skewed towards the most well-off.
Job Creation. The U.S. economy continues to add jobs – 126,000 in March after more than 200,000 jobs each month for the past year, which matches the economic boom of the mid-1990s. The unemployment rate is down to 5.5 percent from its peak of 10 percent in 2009. The private sector has created new jobs for 61 straight months, the longest streak of continuous job creation in the history of our country. Consumer confidence is steady, fueling further gains in our gross domestic product and prompting businesses to make new investments. And the stock market has well eclipsed pre-recession levels, adding some peace of mind for millions of Americans as they near or enter retirement.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), now credited with helping more than 16 million previously uninsured Americans gain coverage, is also contributing to the engine of the economy. The ACA has helped to slow the growth of health care costs, which benefits consumers. According to the annual Report of National Health Expenditures, total U.S. health care spending grew only 3.6 percent in 2013 – the lowest rate of growth in the 51-year history of the report. In addition, by giving everyday Americans access to the kind of affordable group rates that had previously only been available to large employers, the ACA has made health insurance more "portable." This allows entrepreneurs to pursue new business opportunities and innovate without fearing the loss of health coverage, which in turn spurs additional job creation and economic growth.
With the economy strengthening, we must take steps to protect it from the kind of risky behavior that led to the Great Recession. Critical to this was the passage of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as Dodd-Frank. As a result of that law, which I strongly supported, American consumers now have a dedicated watchdog in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Charged with rooting out fraud and abusive practices, CFPB has strengthened consumer protections in the mortgage, credit and student loan markets.
The Recovery is Uneven. The gains in our economy are real and they are promising, but they are also uneven. Too many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet, to put their children through college and to save for retirement. That is the reason the attention of lawmakers is being drawn again and again to the issue of income and wealth inequality.
The picture is stark: The top 10 percent of earners make more money than the next 90 percent of earners combined. And since the end of the recession, 95 percent of income gains have gone to the top 1 percent of earners. We can – and we must – do more to ensure that everyone benefits from our improving economy. That means encouraging smarter investments in our nation’s workforce and infrastructure. That means making sure wages keep pace with the cost of living. And that means restoring fairness and common sense to our nation’s tax code. These are measures that will help to build a strong and lasting middle class.
Unfortunately, the increasingly concentrated wealth in America is being deployed to purchase political clout that in turn seeks to expand the financial position of a very few. That cycle of influence could ultimately put our economy at risk again. For example, the consumer protections and Wall Street reforms put in place after the 2009 mortgage crisis are coming under increasing assault by a financial industry that is looking to cut corners.
Shared Political Access Will Lead to a Shared Recovery. We need a system that protects the political voice of the broad public and ensures that policymakers in Washington are focused on priorities that benefit everyone. That is why I authored H.R. 20, the Government By the People Act, to make it possible for political candidates to power their campaigns by turning to everyday citizens instead of the big-donor class. That connection will ensure that constituents have real access to the policy conversation in Washington.
While the Great Recession may be in our rearview mirror, we must not become complacent. With your support, I will continue the fight to ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity in our economy and an equal say in our democracy.
Congressman John P. Sarbanes
Maryland's Third Congressional District