May 12, 2016
You don't need a political scientist to tell you something is amiss in America. It's there, lurking, in the presidential primary campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, in our social media feeds, in between the lines of recent reports detailing falling mortality rates and rising rates of opioid addiction among working-class Americans. It's part frustration, part anger, but mostly anxiety about the economy and our economic future. Where have good jobs for average Americans gone? Are technology and globalization benefiting or hurting the economy? And where will new good jobs — the kind that make it possible for young Americans to pay off their student loans, buy a home, raise a family — come from?
Through its Strong Local Economies program, the New York City-based Surdna Foundation supports the development of a robust and sustainable economy in three ways: encouraging business development and acceleration, fostering equitable economic development, and working to improve job quality and career pathways. Recently, PND spoke with Surdna's José García about Ours to Share: How Worker Ownership Can Change the American Economy (50 pages, PDF), a new report published by the foundation that examines the potential of worker-owned firms and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) to create a more productive, stable, and equitable economy.
José García: Our interest in fostering a strong local economy is one of the reasons we released the report. It responds in part to the growing number of low-quality jobs generated by the U.S. economy. We recognize that it's important for the economy, for workers, and for our shared prosperity to increase the number of well-paying jobs. These are good jobs, jobs that give people a chance to move into the middle class and a chance at a better future. We're in a period in which wages have stagnated while at the same time debt levels, for most Americans, have increased. Meanwhile, the top fraction of a percent has seen its wealth soar, resulting in a significant increase in inequality. Of course, growing inequality has an impact on economic growth, in that it leads to a decline in the number of people with discretionary income to spend. Here at Surdna, we believe the creation of good jobs is a critical factor in wealth creation and a key component of any agenda aimed at strengthening local economies. It's not a panacea, but we do see it as essential.
PND: It's a coincidence that the report is being released in the middle of a presidential primary season that has seen a self-proclaimed democratic socialist on the Democratic side make a serious run at his party's nomination. But the timing is kind of perfect, isn't it?
JG: I would love to say we planned to release the report during primary season, because you're right, the timing couldn't be better. And one of the reasons is because worker co-ops are a bipartisan idea. From the bipartisan passage of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), legislation that created employee stock ownership options for workers, to the more recent creation of a bipartisan Congressional Cooperative Business Caucus, both sides of the aisle have favored and continue to support actions to increase the levels of ownership in society. And that is what worker co-ops and employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) do — they create good jobs for workers and, at the same time, they give workers a piece of the ownership pie.