Equity and opportunity are on Election Day ballots around the country, giving millions of Americans the chance to vote for policies to build a just and inclusive economy.
Here are five ways that you can vote to put our cities, states, and the nation on a path to equitable growth and shared prosperity.
1. Improve wages and jobs
With Congress stalled on raising the minimum wage, cities and states across the political spectrum are putting the issue to voters. Ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Alaska would raise wages up to $9.75 an hour. San Francisco's Proposition J would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2018, putting the city even with Seattle for the nation's highest minimum wage. Illinois, New York, and cities from Los Angeles to Portland, Maine, are considering legislative action to raise wages.
Oakland's Measure FF considers both pay and job quality: it would set a $12.25 minimum, require sick leave, and allow hospitality workers to keep all wages and tips. Many small business owners have voiced support, saying these provisions would stimulate local spending, spur job creation, increase tax revenues, and boost their bottom lines. "As a restaurateur, I know that better salaries produce higher morale and lowers turnover rates," said downtown proprietor Eduardo Balaguer.
The Alliance for Business Leadership in Massachusetts has cited similar reasons for supporting a paid sick leave initiative, Question 4. It would allow employees to earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year.
2. Eliminate barriers to economic inclusion
African Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug possession, even though both groups use drugs at similar rates. Criminal records for nonviolent offenses like these create life-long barriers to getting a job, attending college, obtaining a loan, or taking other basic steps toward self-sufficiency and success, hurting our communities and economy overall. That's why PolicyLink strongly supports California's Proposition 47, which aims at dismantling the system of harsh and disproportionate sentencing by reclassifying six low-level nonviolent crimes, including drug possession, shoplifting, and check forgery, from felonies to misdemeanors. Prop. 47 would cut prison costs by hundreds of millions of dollars annually and redirect approximately $1 billion over the next five years to K-12 school programs, substance abuse and mental health treatment, reentry support, truancy prevention, and services for crime victims.
3. Invest in human capabilities
Oregon could become the first state to create a permanent fund to finance student aid for post-secondary education, opening up opportunities for low- and middle-income students and strengthening workforce development. The Opportunity Initiative, Measure 86, would amend the Constitution to create an investment fund whose income would be dedicated to student assistance programs. To maximize the impact of those programs, administrators would be able to design incentives in three areas: critical degrees such as science and technology fields, vocational training, and on-time graduation to reduce college infrastructure costs for the state and student debt. Like most governments, Oregon already sells bonds to finance infrastructure projects like roads. Measure 86 is a novel strategy to allow the state to sell bonds to invest in human capital.
4. Connect communities to opportunity
More than one-quarter of a million residents of Clayton County, Georgia, south of Atlanta, could regain full public bus service, under a measure that would levy a one-cent sales tax to raise $46 million a year for public transportation investments. This has been a priority issue for equity advocates since 2010, when the county — where one in five residents is poor — ended the bus service that so many people relied on to get around. The move sent the community into an economic tailspin: businesses closed, jobs vanished, and property values fell. New transportation investments would help people connect to shopping, services, and employment, revving up the economy.
In San Francisco, where the economy is booming, Proposition G aims to make sure that lower-income residents can participate without being priced out. The measure would create a tax on housing speculation, to be imposed when multiunit properties are bought and resold within five years. The goal is to preserve affordable housing and the vibrant, diverse neighborhoods that have always been the city's lifeblood.
5. Protect voter rights and strengthen democratic participation
A wave of recent laws across the country have restricted voting rights —particularly for low-income residents, people of color, and students —undermining voter participation in important decisions, such as the ballot measures listed above. Two states are voting on Constitutional amendments to strengthen voter rights and participation. Connecticut's Question 1 would expand early voting by allowing greater access to absentee ballots. And in a far-reaching response to growing voter restrictions, the Illinois Right to Vote Amendment would prohibit any law that disproportionately curtails the rights of citizens to register to vote or cast a ballot based on race, ethnicity, language, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or income.