Working Families Overview: A Legislator's Toolkit
Supporting Working Families: The Legislative Role
In the United States today, the vast majority of families—82.2 percent in 2008—have at least one member who works. Yet, despite their efforts, many of these families face significant challenges to achieving their goal of economic security. This has consequences not only for the family, but also for society as whole.
“When families cannot afford the basic necessities like health care, decent housing and reliable transportation, they often find themselves getting farther and farther behind.” says Senator Jim Seymour, Iowa. “Billions of dollars are spent each year…on education and human services. If we can lift our working families out of poverty, we can reduce the cost of government programs.”
As a legislator, you are in a unique position to help support the efforts of working families to achieve economic security in your district and throughout your state. You are, first and foremost, a policymaker. In this role, you can strive to put into place policies that support working families. You are also a community leader. As such, you are uniquely placed to understand and act upon issues at a local level, including forging partnerships with others as they strive to improve the prospects of working families. Your efforts will not only benefit working families, but also will be of consequence for your entire state.
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A Message From Former Representative Ro Foege and Representative Dave Heaton, Iowa
When Representative Dave Heaton and I graduated from college, we were optimistic. We found jobs and started families. Dave ran a successful restaurant and joined the Army Reserve. I was a social worker. Like many of our peers, we bought homes, fed our families, took sick kids to the doctor, sent them to college and saved for retirement. In short, we thrived—often with one parent working, not two.
Many parents today are not so lucky. They work hard but struggle to provide for their families. Workers today search for jobs in a landscape that has been reshaped by global competition. The stable careers that once propelled many Americans into the middle class have virtually disappeared. People without a college degree or advanced skills training now compete for jobs that pay less and offer fewer, if any, benefits. Opportunities to move up the ladder are scarce.
In short, it is increasingly difficult for parents to buy groceries, visit the doctor, afford a home, save for college and plan for retirement—even when two adults are working. When ends don’t meet, other problems arise. Dead end jobs, taut budgets and tense conversations can wear on even the strongest households. Frustrated parents become discouraged. Persistent financial and emotional troubles rattle families and diminish the odds that children will grow up safe, healthy and educated.
Representative Ro Foege represented Iowa’s 29th Legislative District from 1996 to 2008. Representative Dave Heaton has represented Iowa’s 91st District since 1995. While serving in the legislature, Representatives Foege and Heaton worked on numerous measures designed to increase opportunities for low-income Iowa families.
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