Inequality kills. The life expectancies of working class Americans have been declining in recent years. The life expectancy gap between our richest and poorest counties have been increasing since 1980 and is now 21 years. After five decades of stagnant hourly wages, working-class people are dying form what are now called “deaths of despair” from suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and behavior-related diseases among people whose long-term social and economic prospects are bleak.

We need an Economic Bill of Rights to end poverty and economic despair.

President Franklin Roosevelt called upon Congress to enact an Economic Bill of Rights in his last two State of the Union addresses in 1944 and 1945. Every Democratic President from Roosevelt to Obama had a least one two-year congressional term in office with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, but none of the economic rights Roosevelt proposed found their way into law.

The civil rights movement revived Roosevelt’s call for an Economic Bill of Rights with the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, and the other organizers of the march believed that to secure civil rights for black people, the black freedom movement had to move “from civil rights to human rights” and build a multiracial movement with the power to secure for economic rights for all.

It is time to pick up the torch for an Economic Bill of Rights!

Such a constitutional amendment could read:

Section 1.
All citizens shall have the rights to:

  • useful work earning at least enough to meet basic needs,
  • a minimum income sufficient to meet basic needs,
  • decent and affordable housing,
  • health care of equal high quality,
  • a public education of equal high quality, and
  • a retirement income sufficient to meet basic needs.

Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


While all of these rights can be realized by federal legislation now, we favor a constitutional amendment establishing an Economic Bill of Rights that will give citizens the legal standing to enforce these rights.




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Howie Hawkins 2020

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