President Barack Obama has focused on the middle class since taking office, whether in the form of the Affordable Care Act, which addresses the critical middle-class challenge of providing affordable, high-quality health care for families, or by providing tax relief. Increasingly the president and his team are zeroing in on a strong middle class as integral to the vitality of the American economy as a whole—and the State of the Union address coming next Tuesday will be another opportunity to emphasize middle-class-led growth and to mention additional policy measures.
The 16 reforms below do not come close to rebalancing the scales of our economy between the wealthy and the 99 percent. For instance, they don’t focus on the shamefully modest taxes we impose on the superwealthy or the dangers of financial markets diverting resources from the real economy into casino capitalism.
But they do fit into a larger agenda to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, and ensure that the economy works for everyone. These are ideas—some modest, others more sweeping—that can spur middle-class-led growth but haven’t received the attention or support they deserve.
This is a strategy that makes sense intuitively both to work-a-day Americans and to those of us who study how the economy works and embrace a progressive vision for the growth of our country. Our increasingly unequal society has made the Great Recession and its aftermath worse, has weakened the will and ability to address our economic challenges, has permanently destabilized our economy, and has undermined basic mechanisms that make an economy thrive.