Last night, Hillary Clinton had a daunting rhetorical challenge. Even though she has been in public life for decades, she needed to cast herself as a change agent – someone capable of bringing a new passion to old problems.
In her speech, Clinton promised “to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States … From my first day in office to my last!”
“Especially in places that for too long have been left out and left behind,” she added. “From our inner cities to our small towns, from Indian Country to Coal Country.”
The economy weighed heavily on many at the DNC, including lawmakers: Hours before the speech, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Robert Casey predicted, in an interview with City & State, that the 2016 campaign would center around “economic security and national security.”
Pennsylvania is considered a key presidential battleground state, one that is clearly in the sights of Republican candidate Donald Trump, who campaigned in Scranton on Wednesday, a little over two hours northwest of where the DNC was taking place.
Casey said the campaign was going to focus on “raising incomes for the middle class” while “providing incentives for companies to keep jobs here” in the United States.
The senator wants to see education added to the mix by “developing a long-term strategy so kids learn more when they are young so they can earn more later in the workforce. She (Clinton) understands that, and I think her plans for the country are very much tailored to our state.”
Thus far, the Trump campaign has aimed to dominate the economic debate – the Republican candidate believes that the Obama recovery has been illusory and that Trump’s record as a businessman makes him uniquely qualified to deliver on improving the economy.
In his exchange with City & State, Casey conceded that there was still some post-Great Recession work to be done on the economy.
“But we are not in the position we were when President Obama inherited an economy that was in the ditch, like no economy anyone can remember – losing 700,000 to 800,000 jobs a month, month after month in late 2008 and in the first couple months of his Presidency,” recalled Casey.
“So, since then: almost 15 million jobs created, the deficit cut by a trillion dollars – two-thirds – and 20 million people have health care,” he enumerated.
“We got to build on that progress, but the long-term challenge we have is raising wages for hard-working middle-class families,” said Casey. “That is a huge problem. It is not going to happen overnight with one bill … but Donald Trump has no plan for raising anyone’s incomes – except the super-rich.”
Lawrence Mishel is president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. Mishel, a native of Philadelphia who now lives in Washington, was back to visit for the DNC.
“Well, the economy certainly isn’t fixed, but the economy is in a better position than it was a few years ago when we were in the midst of the greatest recession since the 1930s,” Mishel told City & State. “What we really haven’t fixed is getting people’s wages to rise faster than inflation for low-wage and middle-wage workers. To do that, we need to have strong continued growth. We can’t let the Federal Reserve Board raise interest rates to slow down the economy, and it would be really great if Congress could invest in infrastructure and do things that would create more jobs” – both issues that were raised during Clinton’s acceptance speech last night.
Mishel added that one of the most pressing issues for the present and future economic well being of the nation is the chronic unemployment and underemployment among young people ages 16 to 24. In some neighborhoods, he elaborated, anywhere between one-third to half of those in that cohort are idle.
“That’s why we really have to do something that targets communities where there are not enough jobs,” Mishel said. “I don’t think it is because they don’t have the skills; it is that we don’t have enough jobs, and we have not targeted jobs to where these people live and can get them.
“If you spend years unemployed, it is going to scar you,” he added. “You will earn less your entire life. It will be harder to get jobs. So, by not doing what we can to help these young people, we are, in fact, hurting our future economy – and their lives.”