President, Teamsters Local 237
Just hours after the recent midterm elections, talk of impeachment was already on the lips of pundits, and polarization in Washington was reaching a high point. Unfortunately for New Yorkers, this means the prospect of addressing income inequality grows slimmer, even as the problem reaches epic proportions in our city and across the nation.
We all know Manhattan is becoming an island of extremes, and the country is following suit. The mean income of the top 5 percent of Manhattan households soared 9 percent from 2012 to 2013, reaching $864,394, or 88 times as much as the poorest 20 percent, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The citywide poverty rate remains at 21 percent as 1.7 million New Yorkers continue to live below the federal threshold for poverty.
Polarization in our nation’s capital is such that according to a new Pew Research Center survey, Republicans, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, want their leaders to “stand up to Obama, even if less gets done in Washington.” So while our legislators look for fights, filibuster and sue the president week after week, the country suffers.
As evidenced by the shamefully low voter turnout in the recent elections, Americans have lost their faith in electoral politics. According to a June Gallup poll, “Americans’ confidence in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, reaching record lows for the Supreme Court (30 percent) and Congress (7 percent), and a six-year low for the presidency (29 percent).”
This is particularly bad news for Democrats, as progressive ideology depends upon a wellfunctioning and productive government. More than 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, progressive reformer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said, “I stand for the square deal … for fair play under the present rules of the game … [and] for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”
Those who represent us would be well-served by revisiting the “square deal” concept and making every effort to build consensus and cooperate to truly serve the people, especially the most needy and vulnerable, and stop the partisan bickering. As citizens, we need to reject the politics of blame and finger- pointing, and reward those leaders who are genuine in their commitment to compromise and making society work better for all of us.
When our leaders choose to work together, government can and does function efficiently, and sweeping public policy can be enacted. The most recent example would be the Affordable Care Act. Despite all the exaggerated threats drummed up by the enemies of reform, the results are undeniable. The number of Americans without health insurance has dropped sharply. Approximately 10 million of the previously uninsured are now covered, the program’s costs remain below expectations and a recent Gallup survey found that the newly insured are satisfied with their coverage. By any normal standard, this is a dramatic example of policy success.
We need serious public policy at every level of our government—not bickering and fearmongering predictions of
failure that become self-fulfilling prophecies at every turn. I have made a commitment, as a labor leader, a worker, and as an American, to support elected officials whose policies will provide opportunities to all our citizens, from the hardest working public and private employees to the most vulnerable 1.7 million New Yorkers living in abject poverty. I urge everyone to participate in the political process, as voters, activists and open-minded thinkers aiming for a fair shot at the American Dream.