Himes on the Challenges of a Changing Economy: It’s a Legacy Problem, Not a Political One

New Democrat Coalition Chair Promotes “New Economic Opportunity Agenda” at Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative

Leaders across the country at all levels of government and the private sector are working to implement innovative policies that address the challenges facing American workers every day. Chief among these is Representative Jim Himes (CT-4), along with his colleagues in the New Democrat Coalition (NDC), have begun promoting a new phase of the group’s legislative agenda, “New Economic Opportunity Agenda: A Future that Works.”

In a presentation hosted by the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative, Himes addressed a key component of the NDC initiative – how to give every American access to the tools to succeed in the 21st century economy. Specifically, the New Democrat leader addressed ways to improve the financial health of independent workers and the need to remove legacy interests in Congress that leave workers behind.

In addressing the many political challenges of the changing economy, Himes acknowledged the anger felt by Americans struggling to make ends meet.

“A lot of what we see in our politics – which a lot of us would label a little pathological – happens because people are feeling disenfranchised, alienated, removed from the American dream – from the middle class – in ways that causes them to seek fantastical solutions, politically,” adding, “Prior generations designed our safety net and benefits system for a traditional, full-time worker. While many still enjoy the stability of the 20th century social contract, a growing number of workers find themselves left out.”

Himes went on to argue a key component of addressing this issue is through innovative policies that allow all Americans to evolve with a changing economy.

“One of the ways to address that, of course, is to think about where the economy is going and what needs to be put into place to allow generations going forward to experience the type of prosperity and upward mobility that so many of our parents and grandparents experienced.”

Himes noted, “Every time there has been a dramatic shift in the way business is done, more jobs come out of the back end that get lost in the front end,” but acknowledged many Americans do not share in that prosperity.

The NDC’s policy action plan includes several specific policy proposals they argue do not have to be partisan, including: providing students and workers with universal basic skills, investing in STEM education and “soft skills,” providing work-based learning during high school, investing in and modernizing career training programs at the federal, state, and local levels, reorienting postsecondary education to prepare workers with career-ready skills and investing in apprenticeships.

The New Democrats argue Washington is too focused on protecting legacy interests and that maintaining the status quo often wins out as it offers the path of least resistance. However, they say, maintaining the status quo is what is leaving more and more workers behind. Himes discussed misperceptions about the challenges he and others face on Capitol Hill, labeling them legacy problems rather than political ones.

“It’s a mistake to think of Capitol Hill as a fight between Democrats and Republicans. A better way to think of what happens on Capitol Hill is it is a fight between legacy businesses and legacy social programs, and the future.”

In addressing the role of the business community, Himes gave his audience a directive.

“Get those minds in the private sector really thinking about how they can just push this old legacy institution on the Hill behind me, but also on how they can innovate new models, new supports and new structures that allow more Americans to be middle class.”

Read more about the New Democrat Coalition’s Economic Opportunity Agenda.

New Democrat Coalition Future of Work Task Force Members include:

Ami Bera (CA-07)

Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL)

Anthony Brown (MD-04)

Gerry Connolly (VA-11)

Suzan DelBene (WA-01)

Bill Foster (IL-11)

Jim Himes (CT-04)

Derek Kilmer (WA-06)

Ron Kind (WI-03)

Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08)

Annie Kuster (NH-02)

Rick Larsen (WA-02)

Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)

Seth Moulton (MA-06)

Donald Norcross (NJ-01)

Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)

Scott Peters (CA-52)

Jared Polis (CO-02)

Kathleen Rice (NY-04)

Brad Schneider (IL-10)

Terri Sewell (AL-07)

Darren Soto (FL-09)

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