01/31/2015 12:19 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2015

President's Call for Action on Inequality Rings Urgently for Latinos


Of the various domestic policy prescriptions of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union address, one message stood out clearly: though the economy has improved significantly since the darkest days of the Recession, the nation still has much work to do when it comes to reducing economic inequality.

It's true that this theme was never stated explicitly by President Obama. Indeed, the President adopted a rather triumphant tone in his description of the state of our economy, arguing that "[T]he shadow of crisis has passed," and characterizing 2014 as "a breakthrough year for America," a year in which "our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999." He described an economy that, in the past four years, has "has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined," and pointed to the recovery of the auto industry and the explosive growth of the tech industry as signs of the economy's vitality.

Yet, despite the bright tone of his rhetoric on the economy, nearly the entirety of the President's domestic agenda centered on proposals that would reduce inequality and provide education, labor protections, and fair pay to those who have been left out of the recovery. In substance, if not in style, the 2015 State of the Union served as a forceful reminder that most American families have been left out of the recent gains in GDP and corporate profits, and that the government has a prime role to play in ensuring that all of the citizens of the wealthiest nation on Earth are able to provide for their families.

President Obama proposed a number of smart policies to address working Americans' stagnating incomes. He called on Congress to address the gender pay gap by ensuring that women are paid as much as men for doing the same work, rather than two-thirds of what their male counterparts make in the same occupations. He briefly addressed wage theft, urging Congress to make sure that employees are paid for the overtime that they actually work. He called for laws that strengthen rather than undermine unions, and for legislative support of pro-worker policies such as child care and paid sick leave. And the President challenged those who resist increasing the minimum wage to go and try and support a family on less than $15,000 a year themselves.

These proposed policies would benefit Latino families. A minimum wage increase would benefit 6.8 million Hispanic workers, nearly one-quarter of the Hispanic workforce. And we've discussed previously how too many Latino families still lack the means to access a good education, escape poverty, or to enjoy a secure retirement. For Latinos, policy that invests in our families, our students, and our workers simply cannot wait.

Thankfully, these income-reducing initiatives are highly feasible. The nation can pay for a more broadly shared prosperity, for example, through tax policy changes that reward companies that invest in American jobs and infrastructure rather than those that stow profits overseas and ship good-paying jobs abroad. When the rich pay their fair share and are no longer able to game the system, the country will have more funds to pay for education, healthcare, job training, and other initiatives that will benefit struggling working families.

For too long, government policy has been captured by corporate interests and Wall Street. These power players and their lobbyists have fashioned laws that benefit the rich and powerful while leaving workers and families to fend for themselves. Latino voters know that things need to change, and polling shows that they favor an active government that supports its striving citizens rather than one that subsidizes the risk-taking ventures of those with the deepest pockets. It is a welcome development to see the President devote a significant portion of his domestic policy suggestions to initiatives aimed at lifting up those women, people of color, and youth who continue to struggle to find a secure place in our economy. Now, it is up to Congress to decide whether 2015 will be a year of increasing prosperity for all Americans, or a return to the disastrous financial deregulation and anti-worker policies of the recent past.