Once upon a time, the white working class was the colossus of U.S. politics. White working class voters were the largest bloc in the electorate. They provided the foundation for the New Deal, the most durable political coalition in U.S. history Today, the white working class vote faces multiple challenges to exerting influence, as their numbers and clout have declined.
What the economy needs is a massive program of investment in public infrastructure to provide jobs and domestic growth that is relatively insulated from global trends. Such a program could also accelerate an overdue transition to a greener economy. That would require on the order of about half a trillion in outlays a year, some of it financed by higher taxes on the rich and some of it financed by debt. Try to find a mainstream politician calling for that level of public outlay. Look around you at the appalling state of basic public infrastructure. In New York, the a new subway line is literally taking decades because only a little money is available each year. Our coastal water and sewer systems are sitting ducks for the next surge of sea level rise. Basic roads, bridges, tunnels and electrical systems have deferred maintenance bills stretching into the trillions. Our internet access systems are technically behind those of most of Europe and some in the Third World -- and far more costly to consumers. And don't get me started on Amtrak.
Republicans have staked out endless signature issues: shutting down the government, vilifying immigrants, denouncing rights like paid sick leave and equal pay because they are "women's issues," privatizing education, and--wait for it--obliterating the rights of working people to negotiate together for better wages and benefits that can sustain their families.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll recently asked, "Which concerns you more: the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country, or middle and working class Americans not being able to get ahead financially?" If you understand how the economy works, that isn't just the wrong question. It's probably a meaningless one.
The fight for the $15 minimum wage needs to be seen as part of a larger struggle. The results of a successful fight for a higher minimum wage will be positive for a limited time. Fighting for a higher wage in the United States must be accompanied by fighting for better working conditions and wages globally.
As most of us prepare to feast on a cornucopia of lovingly prepared foods, I am acutely aware that the basic necessity of a living wage eludes millions here in America and billions more around the world. For those mired in wretched poverty, Thanksgiving is just another Thursday where they try to eek out just enough to survive.