New York, NY — Economic Opportunity and a healthy democracy should be central focuses of America's political debate, according to a new policy briefing book published today by Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, a national, non-partisan public policy, research and advocacy organization. The publication, Fulfilling America's Promise: Ideas to Expand Opportunity and Revitalize Our Democracy, will be circulated to national and state-level candidates, and sitting officeholders, in the weeks leading up to the November election, and beyond, in an effort to highlight key economic and ballot-access challenges that are felt across the country — and to offer real-world reforms that can be implemented at many levels of government.
"This election year, and the important legislative sessions that will begin in January, offer a chance to look at some of the deep challenges we face as a nation," said Demos President Miles Rapoport. "There has been an erosion of the basic social contract that has defined the essence of America: having a chance to get an education, finding a job that offers security, and achieving the ability to raise a family in a stable household economy. In addition, the democratic structures that enable us to confront these issues are themselves in need of serious repair. The months ahead are a real opportunity for a serious national dialogue about these issues that affect millions."
Fulfilling America's Promise contains a wealth of statistical information about the economic conditions, and the current limitations to fair participation in democracy, that millions of Americans now face. This publication offers a serious look at the facts on these issues, with corresponding policy and administrative reforms that officials can discuss this year and implement in the upcoming legislative season. A look inside:
Building the Future Middle Class
* Too many college-ready young adults, over 168,000, forego higher education because it is unaffordable. An alarming number of those who do graduate begin their careers with a debilitating level of debt, from student loans and credit cards--to which many have turned to cover rising education costs. In order to grow the middle class, our nation must restructure federal student aid to ensure that anyone who wants to go to college won't be prohibited from doing so because of cost.
* Volatile economic conditions threaten America's status as a middle-class nation: average wages for young families have dropped over 30 years; fewer Americans have secure retirement plans--only 17 percent of private sector employees have pensions, down from 44 percent 30 years ago; and skyrocketing costs of housing and healthcare mean that growing numbers of families cannot make ends meet, much less build a nest-egg or a financial cushion for an emergency. We must ensure that anyone who works full-time does not fall below the poverty line and that opportunities for advancement are available to those with a willingness to work.
* To deal with stagnant incomes and rising costs for basic expenses, Americans are falling deeply in debt, with a national credit card debt load at nearly $800 billion and the average indebted family paying nearly $2200 a year in interest charges alone. This is a grave threat to the ability of American families to manage the costs of day-to-day living and to save for the future. These trends must be reversed to ensure the long-term health and stability of our nation's economy.
* Almost one in three eligible Americans are not registered to vote. America's patchwork of voter registration procedures -- including arbitrary deadlines, outdated voter lists and erroneous voter list purges -- too often function as barriers to participation in elections.
* 5.3 million Americans are disfranchised because of a felony conviction. Americans in several states also confront new challenges to voting rights in the form of regressive photo ID requirements, which threaten to disfranchise millions of eligible citizens who lack a driver's license or state-issued photo ID.
* Our current system discourages the act of voting. The hours-long lines for voting In Ohio, Florida and elsewhere in the 2004 elections are prima facie evidence. Machine and ballot shortages, too-few and inadequately trained poll workers, voting list errors, malfunctions, and other problems were all-too common. Partisan election officials, engaging in election activities that clearly raise questions about conflict of interest, exacerbate the growing sense of a system in crisis. America needs a set of policies that encourage electoral participation, along with a thorough overhaul of election administration to move our electoral system into the 21st century.
"With the beginning of the Congressional and state legislative sessions not far behind, the next several weeks will be a time for serious consideration of how best to effect the well-being of our nation, our states, communities and families," said Rapoport. "Our leaders should draw inspiration from a vision of an America that fulfills its highest democratic ideals. This policy agenda can help to rekindle the broadly shared belief that together we can create and maintain the public structures that help us plan for a better future and achieve common goals — to maintain a strong democracy and ensure prosperity is widely shared."
For more information, to download a full copy of Fulfilling America's Promise, or to request a hard copy, visit archive.demos.org.