Understanding the Forgotten American
By Che Watkins, The Center for Working Families
I don’t know about you, but I cannot believe that Election Day 2018 is right around the corner. Thousands of early ballots have already been cast across the country. Sidebar: I wonder how that changes the way that candidates campaign with early voting taking voters out of the “process” three to four weeks before their “big push”? Sorry, I digress. Welcome to the way my mind works. Since the 2016 election there have been thousands of articles, think pieces and some puff pieces that have tried to nail down the current electorate. Who are they? What is their problem? How entrenched in their respective camps are they? Most importantly, what they heck are they looking for?
While the answer to that question differs based on who you ask, for a number of people, they are really and truly simply looking for a chance. Not a handout, not preferential treatment, just a chance. Sometimes you hear them referred to as the Forgotten Americans and usually when they are discussed in the media, there are white. However, I think that we all know that Forgotten Americans come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I think that we all know that if certain policy challenges are fixed, ALL Forgotten Americans would have access to more opportunity. It actually makes me laugh (and then makes me angry) when some people look at data, politics, protest, etc. and, with the most puzzled look on their faces say, “Wow, what are they so angry about? I mean, if THEY just…”
One of my favorite nerd organizations, Brookings, just released an essay by Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of The Forgotten Americans: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation discussing some of the direct needs of the Forgotten American and also provides some ideas for solutions. It is a long article, but I read it and picked out some of the quotes that resonated with me as we move through this current political cycle:
“Unless policy reflects widely supported values, representative democracy will not flourish.” (My commentary – And when policy doesn’t reflect widely held values, people tend to get upset when they don’t see their voice reflected.)
“People want to be self-supporting.”
“Another theme was that the government is simply out-of-touch with ordinary people. They have no clue what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck.”
I encourage you to click on the link and look at the seven ideas that she developed based on her research and focus groups. We can work towards or at least towards a modification of each and every one of these Americans and usually when they are discussed in the media, they are white (I anticipate some pushback on Number 7 – Higher Taxes, but read until the end!!). Atlanta, we don’t need another study, we don’t need another focus group, we don’t need anyone else to tell us what we already know. A new Bloomberg analysis, shows that Atlanta rose to the top spot in the rankings as the most unequal city for 2017 after spending the past three years in second place, after New Orleans. They had Katrina! What is our excuse? When are we going to come together and do things differently than we have in the past? I am working with partners on some of these (career and technical education, a worker tax credit)…think about how you can help move the needle of some of the others. Everyone has a role!