Jeb Bush has a plan to grow the economy by 4 percent. In order to achieve that growth, according to Bush’s plan, “people need to work longer hours.” At least that’s the phrase that critics are isolating from a live-streamed interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader that took place yesterday. As ABC News reports, the Bush campaign is insisting that his comments referred to the fact that the nation has a large force of underemployed, part-time workers that seek full-time jobs. Yet Bush’s opponents are using the out-of-context phrase as an opportunity to attack him.
Bush’s full quote on the topic is as follows: “My aspiration for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is for 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.” In its full context, Bush isn’t necessarily saying that economic growth is slow because people aren’t working hard enough. He’s implying that people want to be working full-time jobs in order to have a more prosperous life for themselves and their families.
As was the case with Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants during his campaign announcement speech, political opponents are using Bush’s gaffe as a weapon against him. Even though Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would likely agree that the best outcome would be for citizens to be working longer, more productive hours, they have both already issued statements insinuating that Bush is a member of the out-of-touch elite.
Hillary Clinton tweeted a graph of how worker productivity in the U.S. has increased while hourly compensation has stagnated, along with the words “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers.”
Bernie Sanders took the opportunity to emphasize his call for higher wages. “The sad truth is that, because the middle class has declined over the last 40 years, while almost all new income and wealth has gone to the people on top, Americans already work the longest hours of any people in the Western industrialized world,” Sanders said, according to The Hill. “What we need now is an economy that provides decent wages and income for the middle class, not demands that people work even longer hours than they current[ly] do."
Even in his defense of his comments, Bush stood by the standard Republican rhetoric of opposing government handouts. “You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means that people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success, they have money, disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government,” Bush said. He also tweeted his own response to Clinton.
The economy is shaping up to be a central issue in the 2016 presidential election. Republicans and Democrats are, obviously, split on the issue of how to improve economic growth. This time around, at least, both understand that income inequality has gotten horribly out of control and the middle class has crumbled. According to Time, incomes for the top 1 percent are up 138 percent since 1980, while income for the top 90 percent is only up 15 percent. Something needs to change.
Bush’s comments are a fine enough jumping-off point for politicians to outline their own opinions on how economic growth can be achieved, but the way in which they’ve been construed by the media and other candidates alike is a bit over-the-top. Bush does, in fact, have a point. As the BBC reports (and as Bush stated in his tweet), 6.65 million Americans are working part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time jobs. The “real” unemployment rate is most likely closer to 11 percent.
The nation is, however, still overworked. According to Fortune, Americans average 47 hours of work per week. As Sanders said, that's more than most developed nations. As with most political issues, the reality is somewhere in between what liberals like Clinton and Sanders and conservatives like Bush have described. Many Americans want to be working longer hours, but workers also need higher wages. It will be interesting to see how candidates hash out these issues during the debate stage, but for now the out-of-context online shaming of Bush will continue until the next candidate fumbles over his or her words.
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