by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This economic stagnation has implications for a whole host of issues important to conservatives. Representative Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and Senator Tim Scott (R., S.C.) recently announced a January 2016 South Carolina presidential-primary forum on poverty. Talking about poverty is all to the good, and Republicans can and should have real solutions to the issues facing the American poor. However, lower-wage jobs have a role to play in the enterprise of ameliorating poverty. Starter jobs, often with wages at or just above minimum wage, can provide the initial rung on the ladder of economic opportunity. Jobs such as landscaper, waiter, or retail-store clerk can also provide supplementary income and can help both younger people and more mature adults pay their bills while pursuing further education or job training. But declining wages for these starter jobs often make it harder to climb to the next rung.
This economic hollowing out places further strains on our civic fabric. Every extra hour spent working to make ends meet is one fewer that can be spent helping with homework or volunteering at a food kitchen. Of course, work serves as a valuable buttress of civil society, but deteriorating conditions for the average worker — and especially for the low-wage worker — exact both an economic and a civic price. …
… This economic stagnation has implications for foreign policy, too. Without a resurgence of economic growth, the kind of proactive, vigorous foreign-policy presence desired by many conservatives will likely become less politically and fiscally sustainable. Economic decline lowers tax receipts, which increases the relative cost of military spending, foreign aid, and diplomatic missions. For fiscal hawks, economic stagnation poses a potential threat to the nation’s long-term fiscal solvency.
In the face of these statistics, Republicans need to keep their eye on broad-based economic growth. A pro-opportunity economic policy would not only be a good political message; it would also help reinforce the socio-economic infrastructure needed for a vigorous republic.