Mitt Romney has said that this election is about one thing: jobs. If I were drafting President Obama’s convention speech, here’s how I would re-frame and respond …
… Now my challenger says that this election is all about jobs — that what our country needs today isn’t all that complicated or profound. We need jobs.
So here’s something Governor Romney and I agree on: we need jobs. Lots of them.
Americans are a resilient and resourceful people. We’ve climbed out of a recession that savaged our economy, hollowed our banks, foreclosed our homes, and cost us upwards of 800,000 jobs per month.
Ever since we bottomed out we’ve begun to add jobs and grow our economy. It’s decent job growth, about 160,000 jobs created last month. So we’re moving forward. We’ve steadied the banks, rebuilt the automobile industry, made gains in housing, and overall we’ve stabilized a very bad situation from a terrible recession. And yes, we are better off than we were four years ago.
But we still need more jobs. No argument from me on that.
But let me add to Governor Romney’s formulation. Because I think his perspective is very narrow and limited.
America needs not just jobs. We need good jobs. We need a good quality of life for all Americans. We need jobs that make the American Dream possible. There are lots of jobs out there that are low wage and without benefits. And families struggle because of it. We need good jobs instead.
Governor Romney talks about one of his success stories at Staples. He got rich from it, as did other Bain investors. So let’s applaud him for this investment. As he mentioned in his convention speech, my campaign buys from Staples from time to time. And I’ve roamed the aisles there myself.
Now it’s true that when he invested in Staples it crushed a lot of mom and pop stores and put them out of business. These were entrepreneurs and small business owners who were making a good living and serving local businesses well. But we can agree to address this issue at another time.
No, what’s interesting about Staples is not who got rich from it. What’s interesting is to look at the types of jobs they have there.
Most of the sales associates, the good people who help us with our purchases, make less than $10 dollars an hour. Less than $10 an hour. They work hard, play by the rules, and contribute to the success of the company. But they make less than $10 an hour.
Add that up and guess what? It comes out to about $20,000 a year. For a family of four that puts them below the poverty line. And it puts them way below the types of jobs that buy a family security with good benefits and a retirement plan.
At his convention, Governor Romney’s speechwriters put in some good and moving rhetoric about parents that stay up at night worrying if they can make ends meet and put healthy meals on their kitchen table. But Governor Romney should be honest with himself: that also describes the plight of so many workers in the companies he and Bain have invested in.
You can’t build an American Dream on the types of jobs that Governor Romney wants to create.
A recent Wall Street Journal survey found that at the top 500 companies in America, revenue per worker rose from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2010. So our rank and file workers are more productive and earning more for their companies. But they aren’t seeing much of that money. Most of it is going to the top executives and investors like the people at Bain Capital.
So yes, it’s about jobs. But also about good jobs. Middle-class jobs. Empowering people to reach the American Dream. To gain a measure of security so they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work. Not to worry about the next health care expense or how to pay for college or even if they can afford a new pair of football cleats for their high school athlete.
We need more than a society that enriches only wealthy investors who create jobs that don’t pay enough for the rest of us to afford the American Dream.
We need an America that invests in education and schools. In skills training. In technology that can make us more productive. In small businesses that grow and hire people at good wages. Those are the things that Governor Romney wants to cut. Those are the things I say we need.
We all want a thriving American community. One where we are looking out for each other, knowing that the success of my neighbor helps my own success and that of my kids. Where we stand on each other’s shoulders and contribute to good schools and worker training and better services that help us all.
We have a choice: We can thank a few investors like the people at Bain Capital who make a lot of money off the low-wage jobs they occasionally create. Or we can use our resources and ingenuity and know-how to make each other more successful, strengthen the middle-class, and build a better America together. That’s what this election is about. That’s the choice America faces today.
A former speechwriter and strategist for causes, candidates, and members of Congress, Leonard Steinhorn has written on American politics and culture for major newspapers and magazines, and is currently the director of the Public Communications department at American University.