U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan said he’s urging fellow Democrats to stress pocketbook issues after a 2016 election in which he said his party failed to show how it would help workers make ends meet.
Pocan, D-Black Earth, was at UW-Madison on Thursday to meet with academic experts about trends affecting labor, wages and the U.S. workforce. Joining him were three other Democratic U.S. representatives: Mark Desaulnier of California, Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Donald Norcross of New Jersey.
Pocan said he and the other lawmakers plan to craft a legislative proposal centered on labor, wage and workforce issues. They haven’t decided what it will include, he said, but are seeking advice from experts at UW and elsewhere.
Pocan said the November election results made clear that voters thought Democrats lacked a strong economic message.
“We didn’t talk to people about what they talk about at their kitchen tables,” Pocan said. “We’re trying to transform the conversation within the Democratic Party … by talking about the future of work and labor.”
The election results made many Democrats recognize that shortcoming, he said.
“I think everyone realizes now that’s why we lost the election in places like Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania,” Pocan said.
Pocan cited his blue-collar hometown of Kenosha, which President Donald Trump visited earlier this week in his first trip to Wisconsin since his inauguration. En route to a surprising win in Wisconsin, Trump narrowly carried Kenosha County, which Democrat Barack Obama easily won in 2008 and 2012.
Obama got 44,867 votes in the county in 2012, compared to 34,977 for Republican Mitt Romney. In 2016, Kenosha County gave Trump 36,037 votes, versus 35,799 for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“You can’t have a campaign message of ‘I’m not him.’ It has to be more than that,” Pocan said.
Trump “gave easy answers about trade,” Pocan added. “But he has no solutions.”
Some of the most illuminating parts of the discussions with UW experts focused on the so-called “gig economy” and subcontracting economy, Pocan said, in which growing numbers of U.S. workers — as many as 70 million — work as independent contractors.
Many earn tepid wages and receive few, if any, benefits — exacerbating the ongoing rise of income inequality, Pocan said. “We’re seeing this great separation in the workforce because of these changing structures,” Pocan said.