Vot­ers less di­vided on sup­port­ing work­ers

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Jes­sica Men­ton

The coronaviru­s pan­demic has nar­rowed a long-stand­ing di­vide be­tween most Repub­li­cans and Democrats on a wide range of pro­pos­als to sup­port the U.S. economy, from rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to mak­ing child care more af­ford­able, chal­leng­ing the con­ven­tional be­lief that Amer­i­cans are di­vided head­ing into the 2020 elec­tion.

A Public Agenda/USA TODAY/ Ip­sos sur­vey re­veals that Amer­i­cans across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum sup­port many mea­sures to cre­ate good jobs and boost op­por­tu­nity. The poll of Democrats, Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents is part of the three or­ga­ni­za­tions’ Hid­den Com­mon Ground project, which seeks to ex­plore ar­eas of agree­ment on ma­jor is­sues.

Most Amer­i­cans, re­gard­less of party af­fil­i­a­tion, sup­port pro­pos­als to

raise the min­i­mum wage; make child care more af­ford­able; and pro­vide an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies that would help their com­mu­ni­ties build a strong economy that gives ev­ery­one the chance to suc­ceed.

Though most Amer­i­cans say they think the economy is rigged to ben­e­fit the rich and pow­er­ful, most also say it is OK for the rich to get richer as long as ev­ery­one has a chance to suc­ceed. The sur­vey of more than 1,000 adults was con­ducted from Aug. 28-31.

“There’s a lot of other re­search that talks about how di­vi­sive Amer­ica is right now, but when you get down to the pol­icy di­men­sions, there’s ac­tu­ally a lot of una­nim­ity,” says Chris Jack­son, vice pres­i­dent at Ip­sos.

“The di­vide we’re see­ing be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats isn’t re­ally a divi­sion about where Amer­i­cans want the county to go. It’s much more about an ‘us vs. them’ men­tal­ity,” Jack­son says. “But in the pol­icy do­main, most peo­ple are ac­tu­ally on the same page.”

Min­i­mum wage

For years, the Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity Se­nate has re­fused to con­sider any hike in the fed­eral min­i­mum wage, in­clud­ing a bill passed by the Demo­cratic-dom­i­nated House last year that would more than dou­ble the amount from $7.25 to $15 an hour. More Amer­i­cans fa­vor the pro­posal, sug­gest­ing there could be space for ne­go­ti­a­tion on how much to in­crease the min­i­mum. The fed­eral min­i­mum wage hasn’t changed since 2009.

Most Amer­i­cans (72%) sup­port rais­ing the min­i­mum wage, in­clud­ing most Repub­li­cans (62%), Democrats (87%) and in­de­pen­dents (69%). That’s up from 66% of Amer­i­cans who sup­ported rais­ing the min­i­mum wage in February be­fore the pan­demic shut­tered the economy in March.

Lisa Toner, a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can, is one of those Amer­i­cans who sup­ports rais­ing the min­i­mum wage. She works as a cer­ti­fied home health care aid in North Ton­awanda, New York, out­side Buf­falo, mak­ing $16.50 an hour. She fa­vors a sys­tem where low-skilled work­ers would start at min­i­mum wage, set­ting a floor from there to boost wages for those with more ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Peo­ple who are older and have more ex­pe­ri­ence should have their start­ing pay above the min­i­mum wage. It makes me up­set that some­one flip­ping burg­ers is mak­ing al­most as much as me,” says Toner, 49, who is still on the fence on whether to vote for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber.

Linda Lee, a re­tiree in Manis­tee, Michi­gan, worked in law en­force­ment for a quar­ter of a cen­tury in In­di­ana, mak­ing $25 an hour. In the late 1990s, she and her hus­band moved to Michi­gan af­ter he re­tired from more than 30 years of work at a Gen­eral Mo­tors fac­tory. She took a job as an au­di­tor at a casino for the next 15 years, mak­ing $13 per hour be­fore re­tir­ing in 2012.

“If peo­ple are work­ing, they need to have a liv­able wage,” says Lee, 69, an in­de­pen­dent who re­mains un­de­cided on whether to vote red or blue in the elec­tion.

“I came from an area in In­di­ana that had big cor­po­ra­tions. Peo­ple had jobs, they made good money and had de­cent health care and re­tire­ment,” Lee says. “When we moved to Michi­gan, that was like liv­ing in a dream world to th­ese peo­ple. Many are work­ing two or three jobs just to get by.”

Af­ford­able child care

The push to re­open the economy dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic has left mil­lions of work­ing par­ents in a bind as they strug­gle to re­turn to work with­out some­one to care for their chil­dren, who at­tend school from home.

Three-quar­ters of Amer­i­cans (77%) sup­port mak­ing af­ford­able, high-qual­ity child care avail­able to all fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing most Repub­li­cans (71%), Democrats (86%) and in­de­pen­dents (75%).

Kevin Moses, a Demo­crat, wants af­ford­able child care and sup­ports a hike in the min­i­mum wage.

Moses, who lives in Columbia, Ten­nessee, has been on dis­abil­ity for 15 years. He worked in a steel fac­tory for nearly two decades, mak­ing $13.75 an hour.

“It takes two par­ents to make a suf­fi­cient liv­ing for a fam­ily th­ese days,” says Moses, 52. “With the pay scale be­ing what it is, you can’t do it alone. There has to be some­one to care for the chil­dren, but it has to be af­ford­able.”

Toner and Lee agree there should be af­ford­able child care.

Racial in­equal­ity

Vot­ers ex­press par­ti­san dif­fer­ences on is­sues such as whether racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in their com­munity makes it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple of color to suc­ceed.

About 43% of Amer­i­cans some­what or strongly agree that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion makes suc­cess more dif­fi­cult, and 47% some­what or strongly dis­agree. Ten per­cent don’t know.

Most Amer­i­cans (68%), in­clud­ing Moses, say strong anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies would make a dif­fer­ence to their com­munity eco­nom­i­cally.

“Blacks re­ally en­dure un­nec­es­sary hard­ship when it comes to get­ting de­cent jobs in the South,” says Moses, who plans to vote for Bi­den. “Stereo­typ­ing and pro­fil­ing usu­ally limit op­por­tu­ni­ties to get bet­ter po­si­tions.”

Toner, an African Amer­i­can, says she’s wit­nessed “sub­tle racism” in her com­munity and some­what agrees with anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies.

Lee says she’s torn on whether racial dis­crim­i­na­tion has made it harder for peo­ple of color to suc­ceed in her com­munity.

She still agrees that anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies would help her com­munity’s economy.

Most Democrats (60%) agree that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion makes it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple of color to suc­ceed, com­pared with 28% of Repub­li­cans and 30% of in­de­pen­dents.

Most Repub­li­cans (61%) and more than half of in­de­pen­dents (54%) say that hav­ing strong anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies that en­sure ev­ery­one is treated fairly would help their com­munity thrive eco­nom­i­cally.

JOSHUA L. JONES/USA TODAY NET­WORK

Pro­test­ers fill Col­lege Av­enue dur­ing the “Jus­tice For Black Lives Rally” in down­town Athens, Ga., on June 6.

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