How Are You Doing?

Almost every day the Bush administration proclaims how "robust" the economy is. Not surprisingly, most Americans don't agree with the president. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans believe our country is moving in the wrong direction and many more believe that the economy is getting worse, rather than better. In fact, according to a recent CBS poll, by an almost two-to-one margin, Americans indicated their belief that life for middle-class Americans has gotten worse over

Almost every day the Bush administration proclaims how "robust" the economy is. Not surprisingly, most Americans don't agree with the president. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans believe our country is moving in the wrong direction and many more believe that the economy is getting worse, rather than better. In fact, according to a recent CBS poll, by an almost two-to-one margin, Americans indicated their belief that life for middle-class Americans has gotten worse over the last decade.

Let's take a brief look at what's been going on in Vermont and the nation since President Bush was sworn into office, and then consider how we can move our country in a very different direction.

While unemployment in Vermont and most of the country today remains fairly low, we are suffering a major crisis in wage deflation. Even though technology is exploding and worker productivity is increasing, nationally, median household income declined by $1,273 between 2000 and 2006. In Vermont, median household income in 2005 was $44,883, 13 percent less than it was in 2000. In other words, while there are jobs available it is harder and harder to find one that provides a strong income. , Even college graduates saw a 5 percent decline in their earnings between 2000 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation.

Since Bush has been in office the United States has lost over 3 million good paying manufacturing jobs. Sadly, in Vermont, our manufacturing base is in steep decline with almost 25 percent of our manufacturing jobs disappearing between 2001 and 2007.

But that's only part of the story. In America today it's not just that the middle class is shrinking. We are also seeing a significant increase in poverty. Since Bush has been president, 5.4 million Americans have slipped into poverty and more and more people are homeless and hungry. In Vermont, the poverty rate t has risen from 9.4 percent in 2002 to 11.5 percent in 2005.

At the same time as wages and income are declining for many Americans, the cost of basic necessities is increasing. Since Bush has been in office the price of a gallon of gas has more than doubled. In rural states like Vermont, where people drive long distances to work, this has caused serious financial problems for many thousands of Vermont workers.

Further, health care costs continue to soar. In Vermont, premiums increased 58.8 percent, or $1,774, between 2001 and 2006. And anyone who has kids in college can attest to the rapid increase in college costs.

Given the continued decline of the middle class and the increase in poverty, what should Congress be doing?

First, we must reverse the disastrous trade policies that have resulted in record breaking trade deficits and the loss of good paying jobs. I will do all that I can to oppose trade agreements which make it easier for employers to outsource American jobs, and force wages down. Corporate America must start investing in the United States and create good paying jobs here, and not just in China and other low-wage countries.

Congress recently raised the minimum wage, which is a good step forward in alleviating poverty. But, if we are serious about "family values" we must do much more - especially for our children. We must make sure that Head Start and childcare are adequately funded, and that all families have the opportunity for a college education. We must also make certain that no one in America goes hungry. As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee I am working hard on all these issues.

While we spend twice as much per person on health care as any other country, nearly 47 million Americans have no health insurance. My office has been working successfully with communities around Vermont to expand Federally Qualified Health Centers which provide affordable health and dental care, low-cost prescription drugs and mental health counseling on a sliding scale. But, clearly, more needs to be done. It remains a national disgrace that the United States is the only country in the industrialized world which does not guarantee health care to all of its people. I will soon be introducing legislation which will provide federal assistance to those states that wish to go forward with universal health care, including a single payer system.

Finally, from both a moral and a financial perspective, we must address the growing income and wealth inequality which permeates our society and which is greater today than it has been in more than 75 years. There is something profoundly wrong when the richest 1 percent now earn 22 percent of the nation's income, and when the wealthiest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. In order to fund many of the programs desperately needed by the middle class and working families of our country, we must rescind the Bush tax breaks given to the wealthiest 1 percent.