Labor Day Reality: 400 Richest Own More Than The Bottom 60 Percent Of Americans

Sep 2, 2019

  Commentary: Americans want a better future for our families and communities and a better life for ourselves: namely, good jobs, high-quality and affordable healthcare, a secure retirement, affordable college, great public schools, a healthy democracy and justice for all. These are the bedrock values of the American dream, and Labor Day is a time to reflect on our progress toward that future.

Unfortunately, these aspirations are out of reach for too many families. Contrary to the boasting of some, this isn’t the best economy ever—unless you’re rich.

For most Americans, this economy has produced declining wages; skyrocketing healthcare, college and living costs; and a fear that our children will be worse off than we are. Today, 40 percent of adults say they aren't able to cover an unexpected $400 expense, and 25 percent have no retirement savings at all.

Meanwhile, the 400 richest Americans—the top 0.00025 percent of the population—now own more of the country's wealth than the bottom 60 percent of Americans, the working people of our country.

It’s our movement—the labor movement—that fights for the better life people yearn for, through a voice at work and a voice in our democracy. And that’s what the AFT’s 1.7 million members do EVERY DAY in our schools, colleges, hospitals and communities:

As educators, we inspire, encourage, empower, nurture, activate and motivate our students.

As support staff, we clean it, cook it, fix it, drive it, paint it, type it, schedule it, plant it and file it. We care, support and mentor.

As nurses and health professionals, we heal, comfort and save lives.

As public employees, we protect, preserve, repair, revitalize, and keep our towns and cities running.

I am so inspired by AFT members, and so grateful to each and every one of you. You are my heroes and sheroes. You care, you fight, you show up, and—yes—you vote.

Together, slowly but surely, we have changed the narrative on unions: by telling our story and partnering with community on these bedrock values through politics, collective bargaining and collective action, including the teacher strikes of the past year. Communities get that educators, nurses and public employees want what students, patients and families need.

That’s why, despite unrelenting attacks by the right wing, as we have seen with cases like Janus, support for labor unions is at a near 50-year high according to Gallup’s annual poll, with 64 percent of Americans approving of unions. That’s up 16 points over the past decade. And our members are sticking with the union too; we are at 1.7 million members again and growing.

I wish that your good work would be enough to create the power we need. Our unions are the vehicle to create that power. As a union, we accomplish what is impossible to do alone, by bringing people together, by working together, by striking together, and by building solidarity and community regardless of age or race or religion or sex, and regardless of whether we live in cities or small towns or rural communities.

That’s why the AFT is fighting for:

  • Safe and welcoming environments in our schools, our hospitals and our communities;
  • The investments in public schools, colleges and services necessary to fund our future;
  • The freedom to teach and the freedom to care so we can meet out students’ and patients’ needs; and
  • The freedom to live securely on one job’s wages, with a decent retirement and the right to join a union, and without catastrophic healthcare costs or crushing student debt.

We live in a perilous era of extreme economic inequality, existential threats to our democracy, and dangerous growing ethnic and racial divisions. But always remember, you are the change agents and the movement builders for a better life, a better world and the soul of America.

As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So on this Labor Day, let us recommit ourselves to keep caring, fighting, showing up and voting, so we can demand—and win—a better life and future for all.

On behalf of Lorretta, Evelyn and me, thank you for the incredible difference you make every day, and thank you for making our union your home, and a place of hope and aspiration.

Have a wonderful Labor Day.

In Unity,

Randi Weingarten