Written by Amanda Maher
Americans are headed to the polls today—and despite the topics that have dominated the news lately, from Ebola to ISIS, a principal topic on voters’ minds is the economy.
To be sure, the national unemployment rate is now just 5.9%, the first time it has been below six percent since July 2008, and the Dow Industrial Average continues to set new records on an almost weekly basis. But the fact of the matter is Americans don’t feel like the economy is better. People aren’t feeling an impact on their own wallets.
“I feel like the haves have it all and the have-nots, the middle class, it’s just not come back,” one voter tells the NBC News.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some Midwestern cities like Bismarck (2%) and Fargo (2.4%) North Dakota or Ames, Iowa (3.1%) have bounced back from the Great Recession quickly, other cities like Detroit (14.6%) and Stockton, California (12.5%) still face double-digit unemployment rates.
In response to criticism over the still-sluggish economy, each political party points fingers at the other. Conservatives blame the current Obama administration and Democrats for their inability to approve regulation reform that would support businesses. They say that policies like Obamacare have prevented businesses from hiring additional employees. Meanwhile, Democrats argue that it’s the conservative-leaning supporters of big business that continue to stall the economy—after all, it’s the big corporations who continue to ship jobs overseas, they say.
The gridlock in Washington has many voters feeling dismal about even going to the polls. What may spring some, however, is the fact that there are several state and local ballot initiatives that could spur economic growth locally.
Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all have minimum wage increases on the ballot this year, and Illinois will vote on a non-binding referendum to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour, well above the national $7.25 mandate. Again, support for these initiatives generally falls down party lines: conservatives worry that a higher minimum wage will result in fewer jobs—possibly, even layoffs, and will negatively impact business. Liberals, on the other hand, argue there’s no evidence behind these claims, and increasing the minimum wage will uplift the many low-wage earners struggling to get by. This is one issue the general public doesn’t seem too politicized about, however: it’s estimated that voters will overwhelmingly support a minimum wage increase regardless of party affiliation.
Paid sick leave is another hot-button issue on the ballot today. Nationally, 39% of private-sector workers do not currently have this benefit. In Massachusetts, a ballot referendum could make it the third state in the country to guarantee private-sector employees paid sick days. The law would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave per thirty hours worked (or one day per six weeks, in a standard 40-hour workweek). Trenton and Monclair, New Jersey may pass similar ordinances at the local level; Newark and Jersey City have already established such ordinances. Oakland, California is considering a measure that would require employers to provide at least five paid sick days per calendar year—the current California law only requires employers to provide three. In an era where household structure does not always include two full-time parents, access to paid sick leave is critical for vulnerable residents who often live paycheck to paycheck and cannot take time off when they, or a child, is sick.
Many advocates argue that these issues are complementary. “We certainly see them as going hand-in-hand,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director at Family Values at Work, a national organization advocating for paid sick leave. “Paid sick time is really not about being docked your pay. If I make a great wage, but I lose it because my kid gets sick, I’m not in great shape.”
Finally, seven states are considering gambling measures today. The most significant is Massachusetts Question 3, which asks residents to repeal the 2011 casino law, which provides Massachusetts with the ability to build up to three resort-style casinos. The law was passed by legislatures, but without giving residents a vote. More than $12 million has been spent by casino advocates to date. Currently, the cities of Springfield and Everett, Massachusetts have been designated for casino licenses. Casino proponents argue this will help put the cities’ back on track, especially important for a city like Springfield, which has an unemployment rate (10.3%) almost double the statewide average (5.8%). The proposed 850,000 S.F. casino in Springfield is anticipated to create 3,000+ direct jobs, and an additional 2,000+ construction jobs. MGM, the casino developer, has also pledged to buy $50 million in goods and services from Springfield-area businesses each year. Opponents worry that casinos could stifle surrounding area economic development, and spread social ills to neighboring communities who will not stand to substantially benefit from the casinos’ increased tax revenues. At the very least, Question 3 puts the issue before voters to hear their voice on the issue.
The results on the minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and casino-related jobs stand to impact many inner city residents. Don’t miss being heard on issues that matter most to you – get out and vote today!