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Elizabeth Warren’s recipe for change

Senator advocates progressive policies

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Elizabeth Warren’s recipe for change
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke to a crowd of 450 people at Roxbury Community College last week.

While the American economy is booming, the wages and purchasing power of all but the wealthiest Americans are shrinking, jobs are being shipped overseas and college graduates are being hounded by crushing debt.

But, according to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, there is a way out.

“If the government has been taken over by the rich and powerful, then the rest of us can take it back,” she said.

In a speech at Roxbury Community College last week, Warren repeated themes she has been sounding since she hit the campaign trail in 2011 in her successful bid to unseat then-Senator Scott Brown. Now, after more than four years in the Senate, Warren is tying together her life story, her analysis of what’s wrong with the economy and her prescription for fixing it into a speech, versions of which she has delivered at the Democratic National Convention and in other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Drawing on her own life story growing up with a disabled father and working mother who supported her family on a minimum wage salary, Warren described how corporations and the wealthy conspired to lower their tax rates and maximize their profits at the expense of middle- and working-class Americans.

“The minimum wage job saved our house,” she said. “It saved our family. For a lot of folks today, that story doesn’t end well. For a lot of people from the African American and Latino communities, the system never did work.”

Warren showed data outlining how working families’ economic prospects have dimmed over the last 50 years. Personal debt has increased 15-fold, despite the fact that families now spend less on food, clothing and appliances. The culprit? The skyrocketing costs of college, child care, housing and health care.

“You can’t cut back on child care or health insurance,” Warren said. “You either take on a lot more credit card debt or you go belly up on your mortgage.”

Ultimately, Warren said, the country’s priorities have shifted.

“We went from being a country that strengthened its middle class to one that bet on its wealthiest people and hoped that it would trickle down to the rest of us.”

Warren demonstrated how the bank regulation and anti-trust laws instituted after the 1929 stock market crash prevented major crashes from happening until the 2008 crash, which created massive job losses, foreclosures and other negative outcomes for low-income people. Warren blames the 2008 crash on deregulation of the financial institutions that she says caused the crash.

“They loaded up on risk and put us all in danger,” she said. “We all know how that turned out.”

Warren’s prescription for fixing the U.S. political system and the economy includes increased regulation of corporations, banks and financial institutions, more investment in education and investments in clean energy.

As an example, Warren said closing a tax loophole that allows businesses to write off executive bonuses could save the federal government $55 billion in revenue.

“With that, everyone on Social Security could get the same percentage pay raise that top executives got last year,” she said.

That sum could also allow everyone with college loans in the U.S. to refinance at a lower rate, she added.

Warren said her ideas are not simply progressive.

“These are American values,” she said. “It’s Congress that’s out of step because they have sold themselves to special interests. Lobbyists and P.R. firms have convinced Americans that the situation we are in is inevitable and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Warren told the audience that change is possible, so long as people are willing to work for it.

“You can’t win what you don’t fight for, and you can’t make progress if you don’t aim high,” she said.

She urged the audience to ask prospective candidates to take stands on four key issues: overturning the Citizen’s United law that removes campaign contribution and reporting limits for large corporations; increased taxes on the top 10 percent of earners for infrastructure and education; increased regulation of banks and financial institutions; and strengthening rights for all Americans — including their right to join unions.

Warren has given a version of last week’s speech in Worcester, Lowell, New Bedford, Somerville and Pittsfield. An aide to the senator said Warren has not decided whether she’ll give the speech in other states. In a statement sent to the Banner, Warren said her aim is to spark conversation about how to rebuild the middle class.

“This presentation grows out of work that I’ve been doing for more than 20 years on the challenges facing America’s working families,” she said in the statement. “It’s a chance to have a deeper conversation with people here in Roxbury and across Massachusetts about what’s gone wrong with our middle class and what we can do to rebuild it. Ultimately, I’m hopeful because the things that are broken are things that we can fix — we just have to decide to get out there and do it.”