09/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How to Renew the American Dream for Working Families?

The essence of the American Dream is that by working hard and playing by the rules members of each generation should be able to improve on the standard of living they experienced growing up. Yet that dream is at risk for today's working families, and particularly for our children and grandchildren.

The question of what it will take to renew the American Dream for working families will be front and center as Democrats meet at their convention next week. Indeed, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have made "Renewing the American Dream" the theme of their domestic policy platform and vision for the future.

But workers have good reason to be skeptical of such themes, visions, and platform statements. They know first hand that they have been working harder and longer than ever before yet are seeing their incomes decline and their jobs, health care coverage and costs, and retirement security all put at risk. They want and deserve concrete answers to the question of exactly how Barack Obama and fellow Democrats will reverse these trends.

Those of us who have been working on labor and employment issues in the campaign know that Senator Obama is committed to a comprehensive, detailed, forward-looking action plan. It starts by enacting the Employee Free Choice Act to restore workers' ability to join a union and get a collective bargaining agreement and by ensuring all working parents have access to paid sick leave and supporting state-level initiatives to provide paid family leave. It builds on his plan for jumpstarting the economy by investing in renewable energies and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure with good paying, sustainable jobs. It complements his plan to provide affordable, high quality health care coverage to all America by engaging and working in partnership with our nation's health care workforce and provider organizations.

But it also envisions a new approach to administration and enforcement of work and employment policies. Barack Obama will restore workers' trust in government by putting people in charge of labor and employment agencies who are highly respected, knowledgeable, and above all who believe deeply in the laws they are charged to enforce! He will charge agency leaders to work in partnership with unions, community groups, and progressive employers to make sure labor standards at home and in our nation's trading partners are enforced and improve over time. He will bring his unique brand of leadership to Washington he began promoting in his work as a community organizer in Chicago, one that brings business, labor, religious, and community leaders together to work for the common good, rather than fight battles over outworn ideologies of the past.

Exactly how to pursue these and other goals will be discussed and debated in the meetings and speeches at the convention. But we need to make sure working families across America also learn about and share the excitement, energy, and commitment to the concrete action plans that will flow out of the Convention. So in future entries to this blog I will try to convey both the ideas and the energy that will be building up in Denver in ways that will hopefully engage America's working families to become the powerful force puts Barack Obama in the White House so he can start renewing the American Dream on day one of his Administration.

Stay tuned.

Thomas Kochan, Co-Director, Institute for Work and Employment Research, MIT Sloan School of Management