Jewish World Review August 2, 2004 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5764

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The middle-class squeeze | Sen. John Kerry on Thursday officially accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president amid the predictable pomp and circumstance of the Democratic National Convention. With less than 100 days remaining until the November election and most polls indicating a statistical dead heat between Kerry and President George W. Bush, next up on the challenger's agenda is to figure out a way to mobilize the relatively small number of undecided voters in his favor.

One sure way for Kerry to accomplish that goal is to continue to focus on the middle-class squeeze that millions of Americans are facing. Kerry already acknowledges the plight of many American families in much of his rhetoric, while his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, frequently assails the "Two Americas" while on the stump. But the time for talk is over, and now the Democratic ticket must formulate and articulate a clear platform that advances the lives of the working men and women who make this country great.

Since the beginning of the recession in 2001, corporate profits have expanded by 57.5 percent. But in that same period, total wage and salary income has actually declined by 1.7 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In fact, real wages are continuing to fall, declining in six of the last seven months, while many of the 1.3 million jobs created since the start of the year are paying workers less than the jobs we have lost.

With most family incomes either falling or stagnating, hardworking families are increasingly worried about making ends meet, as expenses such as education, health care, child care and energy continue to rise, and rise quickly. Tuition for four-year colleges has increased 40 percent over the last four years, 14 percent in the last year alone. The average price for a gallon of gasoline recently reached $2 for the first time ever. Day care centers and nursery schools cost more now than ever before.

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Health care premiums are also skyrocketing, rising four times faster than the wages of our workers last year. What's worse, 44 million Americans are still without health care coverage of any kind - a figure that will increase to 51 million in 2006, according to the National Coalition on Health Care.

Wishful thinking alone won't solve this growing problem. But until recently, the Kerry campaign has been rather tight-lipped as to how it plans to turn idle talk into decisive action. Slowly, the specifics of how Kerry's proposals would alleviate the middle-class squeeze are starting to emerge.

The Kerry campaign's first and most important proposed initiative: changing the tax code to discourage the outsourcing of American jobs to cheap foreign labor markets. Whether it will be effective remains to be seen, but Kerry has recommended the elimination of special breaks that corporations receive on foreign profits. Instead, he'd put in place tax credits for companies that create new jobs in manufacturing right here at home.

Another major piece of Kerry's plan calls for lowering the surging costs of health care while expanding coverage. Kerry has offered a $650 billion health insurance plan that would attempt to cover all uninsured children and most adults through tax credits, by shifting large claims to Washington, and by expanding programs such as Medicaid.

The Kerry campaign also plans to create a $200 billion education trust fund to direct more federal funds to local school districts. In addition, he plans to implement a $25 billion bond buy-back program to help build or upgrade schools. Kerry also supports additional tax credits for families to help with the rising costs of college.

These proposals alone aren't going to solve the growing crisis facing many of our nation's families. The truth is, it seems almost impossible to do so. But whichever candidate best attempts to tackle this daunting task could very well be inaugurated come January. And unless either Bush or Kerry - or both - acts to reverse the predicament of our middle class, our nation's prosperity will further diminish.

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