How to End DC Gridlock

April 26, 2012 | Salute to Scholars, The University

TRYING TO GET DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS to agree on policy — especially in Congress — seems impossible these days. But Brooklyn College professor of economics Robert Cherry says he can help break some of the partisan gridlock in Washington. In Moving Working Families Forward: Third Way Policies That Can Work, a book he co-authored with Robert Lerman, Cherry focuses on third-way initiatives that would combine both liberal and conservative ideas that could help shore up the lower middle class ($40,000- $70,000 median family income), which has been hit hard in the economic downturn.

Professor Robert Cherry’s “third way” combines liberal and conservative ideas.

The third way, he says, is to recognize certain government policies are necessary, but to incorporate those policies with the concerns conservatives have about efficiency and personal responsibility. “That’s what was done with welfare reform” (under President Bill Clinton), says Cherry.

The book’s centric policies concentrate on seven areas affecting working families: immigration, both race and gender earning disparities, education, housing, strengthening partnerships and federal taxes. Some of these initiatives, Cherry says, like housing policy, could provide much needed assistance in this bleak economy. “We propose that the government buy up a million housing units and direct them into subsidized housing,” says Cherry, whose interests have focused on the economics of discrimination, race and gender earning disparities, tax reform and economic theory.

“This would eliminate a lot of the depression by taking these abandoned and foreclosed units off the housing market.” The policy combines the liberal view that government should spend money to help people move forward and the conservative idea of efficiency; it’s the cheapest way for the government to get affordable housing.

Cherry also recommends expanding government-subsidized child care and reducing taxes for the middle class and the working poor. “It’s crucial for women not simply to work,” says Cherry, but the higher-paying occupations “require more hours per week and therefore child care is even more crucial.”

He also believes there should be more focus on year-round youth employment linked to high school occupational programs, which have proved successful in keeping students in school and preparing them for occupational programs in community colleges.

“Currently, only one in seven African-Americans aged 16 to 19, is employed; that’s less than half of what it is for whites. For African-Americans living in poor households, the employment is less than 10 percent,” says Cherry. “There’s a kind of liberal, middle-class perception that young people shouldn’t be working during the school year. There’s not an understanding of a crucial role that employment plays among the disadvantaged youth in giving them networks, soft skills and interpersonal skills that are crucial for them to move forward in the world of work.”