On Wednesday morning, at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Senator Tom Harkin (D – Iowa) described for the first time sweeping new legislation that he plans to introduce this spring: the Rebuild America Act. This welcome and badly needed bill aims to help restore economic growth and rebuild the middle class by addressing inequality and creating good jobs.
It is a powerful legislative package that working Americans need. Senator Harkin has long been a champion for workers and for all who struggle to find good jobs, to meet the dual demands of work and family, to overcome discrimination, and to pay for food, housing, health care, child or elder care and other necessities. That has long been evident in his work as a member — and now chair — of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Senator Harkin is a key sponsor of the Healthy Families Act, which would give most workers the right to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days a year to use if they get sick or face domestic violence, or if a family member needs care. So it is no surprise that, as he described his upcoming legislative package, he pointed to paid sick days as a key measure that can strengthen families and our workforce. "Today's workers are caring for children and aging parents. They need jobs that support them and allow families to care for each other," Senator Harkin said. He expressed concern for those in the "sandwich generation" who care for children and older relatives at the same time; too often, he noted, they fall out of the middle class and into hardship and poverty.
Senator Harkin said that his Rebuild America Act will include the Healthy Families Act, which now has support from more than 100 members of Congress and more than 200 advocacy groups nationwide. It will also include measures to raise the minimum wage, protect workers' right to stand together and fund investments in education, child care and infrastructure.
Panelists Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution echoed Senator Harkin's themes. "A strong middle class is not in opposition to a strong economy," Boushey said. "We need to invest in families with things like child care and paid sick days . Most other countries offer a rich basket of benefits [to their employees], including paid sick days and paid family leave. Parents are able to care for their children. It's not only good for people, but also good for the economy."
Senator Harkin closed his remarks by saying, "For three decades, our economy has been held back by failed trickle-down economics. It's time for percolate-up economics. The middle class is the backbone of this country. It's time for Washington to have the backbone to defend it."
The National Partnership applauds Senator Harkin for including paid sick days as a crucial protection for working families. We look forward to the day when he introduces the Rebuild America Act, and pledge to work hard to help advance it. I hope you will join us.