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Economic Security For All

The Dēmos Power Agenda: A Framework for Building People Power offers a roadmap for our shared future. Economic Security For All is the first of five pillars of the Power Agenda, reflecting our affirmative vision for ensuring economic power for all.


Dēmos envisions an economy where all people can regularly meet their daily needs.

Our economy leaves working families with inadequate pay and unaffordable goods and services, making it difficult to make ends meet. Structural racism in our economic institutions makes economic security even harder for Black and brown communities. 

To get to economic security for all, Dēmos is focused on:

  • Ensuring all workers, particularly Black and brown workers, earn no less than a thriving wage without overwork or exploitation.
  • Rebalancing power in the workplace so workers get an equitable share of the value they create in our economy and greater control over how work fits into their lives.
  • Ensuring that all individuals have access to the goods and services that support a comfortable standard of living.

Where We Are and How We Got Here

Throughout history, workers have struggled to get by in an economy that demands labor for our nation’s economic growth7 but offers inadequate pay in return. At the same time our government, often by intent, has failed to intervene in our economy on behalf of workers adequately. Propped up and protected by government at all levels, chattel slavery drove regional and national economic growth in the 19th century through the stolen labor of millions of Black and Indigenous people.8 Factories fueled industrial growth during the 19th and early 20th centuries but subjected factory workers—a disproportionate number of whom were immigrants—9 to substandard wages and abysmal working conditions with no federal oversight.10 The federal government’s Bracero Program and Operation Bootstrap recruited Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, respectively, into low-wage, exploitative work in the agriculture and railroad industries to sustain our economy during and after World War II.11 Even when the government has sought to intervene on behalf of workers, it has fallen short. Designed to boost wages and the standard of living for workers, New Deal legislation excluded from its protections industries where Black workers were heavily concentrated.12

Despite recent progress, many workers still don’t make enough to get by. Wages—the primary source of income for most people13 —have stagnated for most of the last several decades.14 Even with recent real wage growth, particularly for low-wage workers, many people still struggle to cover their basic living expenses.15 The government’s continued failure to meaningfully update employment laws that boost worker pay, such as the federal minimum wage, has left workers worse off.16

And the picture is bleaker for Black and brown workers. Occupational segregation and the devaluation of work performed predominantly by Black and brown people, immigrants, and women, such as care work, leaves these workers concentrated in low wage industries.17 Statutory exclusions for overtime and job-protected leave carve out a disproportionate number of Black and brown workers, leaving them vulnerable to overwork and with limited time to care for themselves or their families.18 All this is compounded by higher rates of corporate wage theft and violations in industries dominated by Black and brown workers.19

Rethinking How We View Economic Security

Frequently, economic security is narrowly focused on whether individuals can meet their basic physical needs for survival (e.g., food and housing) and continue employment (e.g., reliable transportation or childcare). This decenters people and their full range of needs, reducing them to their productive value and creating low expectations for a standard of living. We can do better. 

In the world’s largest economy, economic security should mean a comfortable standard of living where individuals and families have the means and time to meet their social, emotional, and physical needs.

Over the last several decades, workers have been denied their fair share of the value they add to our economy. Between 1979 and 2018, worker productivity increased by 70 percent while average hourly compensation increased by only 12 percent.20 In 1978, CEOs made about 30 times the average compensation of workers in their industry. By 2020, CEOs made nearly 399 times more than average workers.21  

For decades, corporations and weak labor laws have undermined workers’ bargaining power, depressing wages, and limiting the share of economic growth that goes to workers. Anti-union consulting firms leverage weak labor law to help corporations bust unions with near impunity.22 Supreme Court decisions have eroded what unions can bargain over23 and limited their tools for exerting power.24 These anti-union attacks rob millions of workers of the union wage advantage: the median union worker is paid 20 percent more than their non-union counterpart.25  

Essential goods and services have become more expensive, less accessible, and less reliable. Over 40 percent of renters in the U.S. spend a third of their income on housing costs.26 For single-parent households, the cost of infant childcare represented 25 to 75 percent of their income in 2021.27 And the lack of affordable essentials forces many to make hard decisions. According to Federal Reserve survey data from 2022, 66 percent of households reduced or stopped the use of a product when met with higher prices. Half of households surveyed reported reducing their savings.28 Nearly 20 percent worked more or “got another job.”29

Corporations providing essential goods and services are incentivized to deliver profits for their shareholders, not value, quality, and access to consumers. Corporate consolidation and greed can leave communities with unaffordable goods and services from the private market.30 As a stark example, corporate profits became a significant driver of inflation as the pandemic waned, contributing to over 50 percent of price increases.31 When this happens, low-income families might go without or choose poor substitutes.32

Robust investments in public goods—the goods and services produced and distributed by the government—are critical for ensuring communities have greater access to quality and affordable options.33 Unfortunately, for decades, the government at all levels has failed to invest sufficient resources into the essential goods and services that communities depend on to thrive. And all too often, access to public goods are burdened by policies limiting accessibility. For example, governments subsidized or provided housing, healthcare, and food assistance are restricted to individuals meeting certain conditions for eligibility frequently premised on racist narratives around deservedness.34 Similarly, without adequate public funds, government at all levels have given private companies control over administering public resources that should be distributed as public goods, leaving residents with less. 

What This Means For Our Families, Communities, And Our Nation


When families don’t have enough to get by, they have limited power to make choices that contribute to a better standard of living—and thus a better quality of life.35 For example, the lack of universal paid leave means low-wage workers who can’t afford to miss a paycheck are less likely to take time off from work when they need it, such as to care for a loved one.36

Economic insecurity also affects our local and national economies. We know that when workers, especially low-wage workers, earn more, they gain more consumption power. With this, they spend more money in their local economies on small purchases like dining at restaurants, and big purchases such as a family car.“37” This local economic activity stimulates job growth, creating exponential benefits for communities.38 At the national level, the effects of economic insecurity are staggering. According to a 2018 study, child poverty alone costs this country over $1 trillion a year, including costs related to “lower economic productivity.”“39”


Economic barriers to voting compound legal barriers, including voter suppression laws, to make it harder for low-income people to cast their vote, compared to their higher-income counterparts.40 For example, lack of access to reliable transportation, affordable childcare, and paid leave from work makes it more difficult for low-income individuals to show up to the polls.41 Black, Indigenous, and Latino individuals are both more likely to have low incomes and to be targets of racist voter suppression. Where voter turnout among low-income people is lower, our elected officials feel less accountable to them to keep their jobs and deprioritize the needs of low and middle-income constituents. This results in economic policies that benefit the wealthy elite and worsen the plight of the economically insecure.42

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