Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama — December 31, 2014 at 11:13 am

2014 was the best year for American workers in at least a decade



When an AirAsia plane disappeared on Sunday, CNN immediately began non-stop coverage reminiscent of the months it spent tracking the hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which has never been located. By Monday, the debris of the AirAsia vessel along with the bodies of those lost were discovered.

These two lingering tragedies and the massive media coverage that followed have completely obscured the fact that 2014 was the safest year of plane travel — EVER.

That’s 2014 for ya.

Even if you aren’t a business that depends on ratings or clicks, it’s hard to be optimistic. Pointing to the positive seems like a dopey sleight-of-hand designed to distract from — and thus do nothing to confront — the slow-motion disasters that continue plague us.

We’ve declared the war in Afghanistan over, though it’s not over and it definitely isn’t won. American troops are again serving in Iraq. Tensions between the black community and the police have boiled over, as decades of militarization and mass incarceration have created the substantive fear that certain citizens’ lives can be taken with impunity. Meanwhile, two dead cops have left officers in fear that their badge is literally being turned into a target.

And workers are still getting jacked.

Most of us are earning less, adjusted for inflation, than before the Great Recession began. Congress is cutting anything that helps those most afflicted while passing unfunded corporate tax breaks blindly. And conservative governors are literally robbing workers to fund tax cuts for those who don’t need them.

You can debate whether Iraq or Afghanistan were such intractable messes that pursuing the neo-conservative goal of leaving stable democracies in those nations was foolhardy, especially given the wretches the Bush Administration left leading those governments and our collective unwillingness to properly invest in the 1 percent of Americans who have served.

You can point to statistics that show crime is down, homicides are down and incarceration is down for the first time in 34 years. And that doesn’t erase the feeling many have have that black lives don’t matter, at least the way they should.

All these things suck and deserve our constant vigilance. Undeniably. But if we only focus on the negative, we may miss an important story.

While America’s working class is suffering, it’s finally getting a break and there’s finally some promise of better times to come.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in one year. The uninsured rate is near an all-time low. The growth in health spending is the lowest that’s ever been recorded, which means conservative plans to gut Medicare look increasingly cruel and nonsensical.

Insurers are no longer able to discriminate against Americans for having a pre-existing condition — including a uterus. Teen pregnancy has hit now lows, as have abortions — thanks in large part to access to medications that make them unnecessary, many of them funded entirely by the Affordable Care Act. And same-sex marriage spread far faster than Ebola, which actually has not killed one person infected in the United States, though it’s taken thousands of lives in Western Africa.

We’ve had the best year of job creation since 1999 after asking the rich to invest a bit more in taxes for two years straight. There have been 2,650,000 net jobs created through November — more net jobs than were created under 8 years of George W. Bush when 7.9 million Americans lost their health insurance. There was even a hint wages may be improving in the last jobs report.

Gas prices remain largely out of our control, even as we benefit from a sudden, massive discount. But — thanks to the Stimulus — 2014 was the best year for solar installations, again.

Even more importantly, the labor movement is showing new life with more support than its seen from Washington D.C. in a generation.

The Fight for 15 movement continues to grow along with minimum wage increases across the nation. A fully staffed National Labor Relations Board is helping workers — even fast food workers — negotiate on a more equal footing with corporations.

The Republican Senate will do everything it can to stymie the NLRB.

But it can’t undo a series of executive actions in which the president has given new protections to undocumented and LGBTQ workers. He also raised the minimum wage for federal contractors, and asked for a revision of outdated overtime rules that depress workers wages. And with the Senate confirming Obama’s 307th appointment to the federal courts, the judiciary has been transformed in just six years.

Because the 00s were such a miserable decade, especially for workers, you’d have to go back the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program or the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, both under Bill Clinton, to see any see any victories for working people comparable to what was achieved and implemented in 2014. But when it comes to freeing workers and securing the safety net, only the creation of Medicare and Medicaid compare.

You don’t have to believe that everything is awesome to know things are getting better.

Unfortunately, it may take a Republican-led Senate working to undo all these accomplishments to help us recognize what has been won.

But for now let’s celebrate a simple fact. Workers uniting to force the federal government to do the right thing can grow the middle class; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

[Image by Lady Buffalo via Flickr]