U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents Connecticut’s 3rd District including Milford, looks at her job and the issues she faces in Congress primarily through the prism of jobs and wages, she told the Milford Mirror in a recent interview in her New Haven office.
“We have a very serious problem in the economy,” DeLauro said. “People are struggling through no fault of their own.”
Connecticut is a state with among the highest median incomes in the country, yet “one out of seven people in the 3rd District does not know where their next meal is coming from,” DeLauro said.
The 3rd District is comprised of 24 cities and towns surrounding New Haven — as far west as Stratford, as far north as Waterbury and Middletown, and as far east as Guilford.
The biggest issues today, said the Democrat who is seeking a 13th term in November, are “low wages, stagnant wages, creating jobs and jobs that are paying enough.”
She said people in the upper end of economic scale have done “extraordinarily well — off the charts — but middle income wages, there has been no increase.”
When looking at legislation, DeLauro says she focuses on whether or not it will create well-paying jobs and help the middle class. “We need to be growing the economy, so they don’t have to take advantage of government assistance.”
Prism of debt
The prism of national debt and annual budget deficits is not what the congresswoman looks through first when evaluating programs, she said, because “in order to grow the economy we’ve got to make an investment.”
The annual federal deficit for 2014 is forecasted to be about $514 billion, which is 24% smaller than 2013 and 60% smaller than 2010. A $514 billion deficit would be 3% of the Gross Domestic Product.
The national debt, which is the sum of deficits and surpluses over the long term, is approximately $17 trillion, which exceeds the GDP of $16 trillion.
When evaluating a program that requires federal spending DeLauro said she looks to “connect the dots” with “where does it lead?” For example, DeLauro explained that she does not consider investments as “a spending program” if the results are newly employed taxpayers.
Investing in jobs
Specific to DeLauro’s priorities of jobs and wages, she is supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10, about $21,000 per year. That would increase Connecticut’s current minimum wage of $8.70, which equates to about $18,000 per year.
The average age of a minimum-wage worker, according to DeLauro, is 35. “They are working hard just trying to make it,” the veteran lawmaker said. “Why should they work 40 hours and not be able to raise a family?”
Some argue that increasing the minimum wage would lead some employers to reduce jobs, but DeLauro cites the Economic Policy Institute as saying that Connecticut will gain 1,100 jobs with an increased minimum wage.
DeLauro is fighting for education programs for veterans and cites the GI Bill after World War II as a successful example. She said there was a tough economy in the late 1940s, but the result of the GI Bill was the creation of a middle class.
Creating manufacturing jobs is “critical in this state,” DeLauro said, and she is advocating for a Manufacturing Reinvestment Act, which has been introduced in Congress and which would allow employers to take up to $500,000 per year, pre-tax, at lower rate for job training and investing in their business.
“We need to build here again,” she said. “We have got to invest in order to grow. That’s what we have not been doing.”
Fighting for Sikorsky helicopters “is all about jobs and national defense.”
Supporting job training programs is another example of DeLauro’s view of investing so that the result is employed taxpayers. “If our aerospace industry has jobs and we don’t have trained personnel, those jobs go begging,” said the congresswoman. “That is what is happening.”
DeLauro said she has worked on programs with Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, Platt Tech in Milford and Gateway Community College in New Haven to get funds for job training programs. Schools indicate what they need, she said, and then indicate about how many people would get hired and then design a curriculum. She said students are getting hired.
She wonders out loud what is wrong with those in Congress who want to cut training programs that will give people jobs.
DeLauro is a leader in Congress advocating the formation of an infrastructure bank, which would leverage private investment to fund new roads, bridges, mass transit and other public-works endeavors.
A hindrance to increasing jobs in this country is the expansion of free trade agreements including North America, Korea and Trans Pacific, according to DeLauro. With the Korean agreements alone, she said, “we are looking at between 40,000 and 80,000 jobs going overseas.”
Debt and cuts
DeLauro was asked if she finds her fellow lawmakers arguing to cut programs across the board, even indiscriminately, because of the size of the national debt, and if a smaller debt might eliminate some of her colleagues’ cuts.
“No,” she said. “It is more about philosophy of government.”
“They don’t believe (certain government programs) are the job of government.”
“They said that about Social Security, the minimum wage and family and medical leave, but (the country) does not go to hell in a handbasket.”
“Private charities and churches don’t have the wherewithal” to provide the support, said DeLauro.
While DeLauro said that the biggest issue in the country and Connecticut is building well-paying jobs, she acknowledges, “The debt and the deficit are important issues, very important issues.”
“We have an obligation to bring down the deficit and bring down the debt, and no one is pushing them under the rug,” said Milford’s congresswoman. How does the country lower the debt, she asked rhetorically? “Invest in economy,” she answered.
“We are working at it. We’ve taken the deficit down to less than 3%.”