During an economic downturn in 1986, I lost my job as a geologist. After two years of being out of work, my friends and I cobbled together loans from friends, family, and our local government and opened Denver’s first brewpub in an abandoned warehouse district. As entrepreneurs, we worked with other small business owners in the area to build a vibrant neighborhood that became a national model for revitalization. Ultimately, I opened 15 brewpubs and restaurants that have helped revitalize communities across the Midwest.
A quality education and supportive family and friends were undoubtedly crucial to my success. But it also may have been impossible without a government that championed entrepreneurs. If we want to address the deep-rooted challenges confronting America’s middle class, we need to get our government working again.
Remarkably, while the richest 20% of Americans have seen their incomes rise by nearly 100% in recent decades, incomes for middle-class Americans have grown very little. Household incomes for blacks and Hispanics remain well below those of their white counterparts. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, Americans find it difficult to be optimistic, with only around one-third believing their children will be better off than they are. These dismal trends aren’t just an economic issue—they hurt middle-class Americans’ well-being.
We need a stronger economy and an expanded middle class. As a businessman, I learned something that Donald Trump never figured out: It isn’t about how many times you yell, “You’re fired,” but instead, how many times you say, “You’re hired.” As Democrats, we can’t lose the argument by vilifying the private sector and pushing for policy proposals that will add trillions to the national debt. We need to be the adults in the room and present a clear plan for a better economic future.
A fundamental way to build and expand our middle class and economy is to create a modern and well-paid workforce. With a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a cap on student loan interest rates at 2.5%, and a historic expansion of apprenticeships and skills training for the two-thirds of young people who do not get a four-year degree, we can meaningfully raise wages and make families more secure. We also must address the retirement crisis in this country, with a new system of Individual Security Accounts, which could be used at any time for retraining or relocation in case of job loss, or folded into traditional IRAs upon retirement.
Trump continues to tout economic growth, but too many Americans right now can barely make their rent because that prosperity isn’t trickling down to every worker.
If I had tried to start my first brewpub today, I don’t know if I would have succeeded. We need an economy that fosters and encourages competition and innovation. Fewer people are deciding to become entrepreneurs because it is increasingly difficult to compete in industries that are dominated by huge corporations. It’s good that big businesses can succeed and grow, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Today, even the beer industry is 75% controlled by just three companies. Four companies control 98% of the cell phone service provider market. We have to rethink America’s antitrust laws so that this consolidation can’t keep stifling innovation and entrepreneurship.
The president’s tariff wars have cost American farmers and manufacturing billions. These tariffs also have set American workers at a disadvantage internationally and may have permanently hurt impacted industries. Soybean farmers have seen their customers start doing business with Brazil and iconic American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson has moved more production outside the U.S. Free and fair trade is good for America’s middle class because it creates jobs, spurs competition in products, and leads to more innovation. As president, I will restore our trade agreements, end the tariff war, and restore America’s global economic leadership.
The way we beat Trump isn’t by promising trillions of dollars in new programs and national debt. We aren’t going to beat him by attacking the private sector and entrepreneurs. We are going to win by pursuing an agenda that will actually benefit America’s working class by improving economic opportunities through expanded trade, raising wages, cracking down on corporate consolidation, and partnering with the business community. That’s what I did in Colorado, and it’s what I intend to do in the White House.
John Hickenlooper is a former governor of Colorado and a Democratic candidate for president.
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