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Harkin: “Social contract has disappeared” for American Middle Class

WASHINGTON—Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee heard testimony from Americans who are struggling to make ends meet and those who are studying the decline of the middle class.  After delivering a speech on the Senate floor yesterday decrying Washington’s focus on cutting the deficit at the expense of needed investments in job creation, Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) shared his view that middle class families are the backbone of the American economy, but are being largely ignored in Washington and shortchanged by economic policies that favor the wealthiest in society.

Amanda Greubel, a mother from DeWitt, Iowa, who experiences the burden on the middle class first-hand and through the families she assists as a social worker, testified:

“When I think back over our adult lives, it strikes me that we did everything we were always told to do in order to have the American dream.  We finished high school, went to college, and got married after graduation.  We work hard, pay our bills, and have no credit card debt.  We waited to have children until we believed that we were emotionally and financially able to do so.  We both got graduate degrees to be better at our jobs, make ourselves more marketable, and increase our worth as employees…We did everything that all the experts said we should do, and yet still we're struggling.  When you work as hard as we have and still sometimes scrape for the necessities, it really gets you down.”

To watch excerpts of Mrs. Greubel’s testimony, click here:

“Since the 1970s, that social contract has disappeared. Real family income has barely budged despite our workforce becoming more productive than ever,” Harkin said. “Unions have deteriorated and defined benefit pension have all but disappeared. Our manufacturing base has been shipped overseas. Large corporations have put returns for their shareholders and higher pay for their executives over their workers economic security. Income and wealth inequality are at levels not seen since immediately before the Great Depression...  Americans don’t expect to be rich or famous, but we do expect a living wage, and good American benefits for a hard day’s work. It is time we got back to that basic concept.”

Susan Sipprelle, a multimedia journalist who has interviewed more than a hundred Americans for her current project, Over 50 and Out of Work, presented video testimony that includes excerpts from interviews with people who have lost their jobs.  The Committee also heard from Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Jared Bernstein, in his first appearance before Congress since leaving his post as the Executive Director of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families

To read the testimony of each witness or to watch an archived webcast of the hearing, click here:

This is the second in a series of hearings Chairman Harkin is convening to examine the status and fate of the American middle class, and the policies that can help rebuild it. Previously, the HELP Committee heard testimony from economists Robert Reich and Heather Boushey, who described some of the policies and pressures that have led to the decline of the middle class.