Q: What Policy Change Would Have the Biggest Impact on Alleviating Poverty?


Senior Economist, Economic Policy Institute

Today, the U.S. tax and transfer system--largely Social Security--lifts millions of people out of poverty. While this safety net should be strengthened, a well-functioning labor market cannot only lift people out of poverty, but also bolster their incomes enough so they are far less likely to fall into poverty in the first place. Pay for low and moderate-wage workers has nearly stagnated in recent decades as a vastly disproportionate share of overall income growth has concentrated at the very top. This has forced the safety net to work even harder to offset slow growing wages for most workers.

Prioritizing a strong labor market increases the likelihood that anyone who wants a job can get one with the hours that they need. A tight labor market gives employers less incentive to discriminate and more incentive to pay decent wages to attract and retain workers. Stronger labor standards and better enforcement--such as raising the minimum wage, reducing wage theft, and removing barriers to form unions and bargain collectively--are key ways to boost incomes, increase economic security, and reduce poverty.


Worker Power Program Director, National Employment Law Project

We need a real commitment to democratic participation in the workplace and at the ballot box. Workers must be able to freely vote to join a union. Those who do earn 10 to 20 percent more than non-union workers in comparable jobs. Unionized workers are more likely to have employerprovided health care and workplace-funded child care. And the benefits are multigenerational. Even if their parents are not in a union, a child who grows up in a community with high union density has a greater chance for economic mobility.

Making change through a union is a real-world experience of...

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