09/17/2013 06:02 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2013

Honoring Occupy, Creating Occupations

This September marks the 5-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which set off the banking crisis, causing the stock market to crash and costing millions of Americans their jobs. Technically the recession ended four years ago, but I know that the nearly 12 million unemployed and 14 million under-unemployed Americans would argue that we have a long road ahead of us before we proclaim a recovery.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, Congress took the initiative to reform the banking industry. A long period of deregulation and neglectful governance allowed banks to reap immense profits and engage in reckless behavior. But, when their own greed brought our nation to the brink of economic ruin, they received $700 billion through the Troubled Asset Relief Program in order to prevent widespread economic ruin. Today, with the better part of a trillion dollars to backstop them, the banks have recovered and are thriving, along with the wealthiest Americans.

Unfortunately, working-class Americans have not shared in the recovery.

As the recognition of this inequity began to percolate, the Occupy Wall Street movement gained steam two years ago this September. Focused on the growing inequality that the Great Recession has exacerbated, the Occupy movement spoke for the millions who were unemployed, underemployed, and struggling to survive -- all while Wall Street enjoyed a vigorous recovery. Their call was simple -- that the needs and interests of 99 percent of Americans should not be held hostage to the excess of financial elites.

Five years after we bailed out Wall Street, and two years after we took to the streets to demand justice, Congress has done incredibly little to address the problem hollowing out America's promise of upward mobility. Rampant unemployment continues to deny people the dignity of receiving an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

It is time for Congress to offer working-Americas the same fair deal that has allowed Wall Street to flourish. I am calling on my colleagues in both parties to heed Ronald Reagan's proclamation: "That the best social program is a job" and support H.R. 1000, "The Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act," a 21st Century New Deal proposal. If implemented, it could create 3.1 million to 6.2 million full-time, market-wage jobs with benefits in the first two years of program operations, plus an additional 1 million to 2 million private sector jobs from increased spending in the economy.

The Humphrey-Hawkins Act does three simple things. One, it collects the debt that Wall Street owes all Americans by charging a minuscule fee -- only 0.25 percent -- on Wall Street speculation, such as on the sale of stocks. Two, it ensures that Americans receive the job training they need to compete in the global marketplace. Three, it invests in our nation's infrastructure, local communities, and long-term societal needs by creating jobs that rehabilitate and strengthen our physical, economic, and spiritual foundations.

The time has come to recognize that the old economic order is broken, and that we need to pull together and invest in every American who wants to work. We must reflect on the successes of the past, and modernize policies that have been proven effective. It was 80 years ago this past spring that President Franklin D. Roosevelt took 100 days to analyze, develop and implement the early proposals of his New Deal. These programs were credited with putting millions of Americans back to work during the Great Depression and pulling the country out of the worst financial disaster every seen, while modernizing the country through its work projects.

Even if the attention is overdue, action is better late than never. The time has come for us to make a decision. Do we want to be a nation of opportunity for all, or a nation of unlimited opportunity for the few?

In the past five years, too many in our nation have seen their freedom denied by circumstances which rob them of the chance to grow in the way that only dignified work offers. Letting Wall Street pay back its debts to Main Street is the first step in ensuring everyone is once again free to pursue the American dream and does not suffer because of the poor decisions of a wealthy few.