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Time for a little Spring Cleaning on Labor Policy

March 7, 2023 — Modern Economy Project

It’s a debate that begins toward the end of every winter. It happens right as new faces in Washington walk out onto Pennsylvania Avenue by the busload. It plays out on cable television, with graphs and charts and pontificating. Of course, I am talking about tourists arriving for the perennial debate of just when the cherry blossoms will be in peak bloom.

Just down the street from the beautiful trees, though, we could understand if you thought we meant the state of labor and workforce policy. There are more graphs, more charts and certainly more pontificating.

What’s missing from this perennial dialogue? Anything even hinting of a modern discussion about the state of the American worker, workplace and economy. Take, for example, this week’s Senate Health, Education Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee hearing, with buzzwords from the 50s like “Union-Busting,” and efforts to put “major corporations” under investigation.

Allowing workers to freely unionize is the law. Those in violation of the law should be held accountable – and in fact, are being held accountable. Demonizing employers, however, isn’t what the American people want or believe. Most Americans go to work most days at an employer – large or small – and want to see Washington focusing on making sure that a hard day’s work pays a wage that allows American families to feel safe and feel prosperous.

That should be the focus of Congress this month.

At the Modern Economy Project, we are a coalition across the economy. Women and minority advocates, workforce development groups, trade associations and think tanks across sectors and party lines, business interests large and small. In other words, a group as diverse as our economy. And when we talk to our constituents, they all agree, all of us in Washington are missing the point when it comes to how we talk, regulate and modernize the economy. That’s where we need to focus.

But unfortunately, it seems like we are on track for another year of the same nasty rhetoric – pitting workers and employers against one another.

Meanwhile, data point after data point suggests this really isn’t what America wants its leaders discussing. While it may not be unprecedented, our economy is certainly in a strange place. Record low unemployment, better wages and benefits is paradoxically being met with worry and concern by American families. On top of that, we have a once-in-a-generation entrepreneurial boon and survey after survey saying the next generation has an entirely new concept of how, when and where they want to work.

In other words, there is a lot to focus on. Instead of cherry-picking headlines, we should kick off a real substantive conversation about American workers, American companies, and as always the very American, very modern economy.

And on the topic of cherry-anything, the blossoms should be in peak bloom the week of March 22nd. Just in time for Modern Economy Project’s latest research release. Stay tuned for both.

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