Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Why We Need an Opportunity Economy

Why We Need an Opportunity Economy
By Rep. Kristi Noem
January 23, 2015

kristi noem headshot May 21 2014During last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama intended to make the argument that his economic approach was “middle-class economics.”  We ought to be investing in growing the size and strength of middle-class America – as well as its pay – but the President’s policies have failed to do that.

On his watch, only top earners have seen their incomes rise, but middle-class Americans are earning less on average than they did in 2009 – by about two thousand dollars a year.  While jobs have been added at the top and bottom of the wage scale, those positions sought by the middle class have been shed.

A house divided against itself cannot stand – and neither can an economy.  This administration’s policies have divided our nation by class and income.  That’s never been the American way – and it never should be. I believe we ought to seek opportunities for every citizen.  We ought to be bringing folks out of poverty and making sure wages increase across the board.  We ought to be fighting so that every South Dakotan has the opportunity to succeed – so long as they work hard and play by the rules.  We ought to be aiming for an Opportunity Economy.

In many cases, opportunity is a product of education, whether that is a traditional university, community college or vocational school.  I believe in the importance of receiving a higher education, but I also understand the obstacles life can throw in your way when you’re trying to get that education.  I worked multiple jobs after high school to support my own education.

When my dad passed away and I came home to help run the farm, I had to put that education on hold.  I finally finished my degree almost 20 years later. Needless to say, I understand the challenges.  That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been so supportive of 529 savings plans, which hundreds of South Dakota families currently take advantage of.  The President proposed increasing taxes on these savings accounts as part of his State of the Union pitch.  But this is money hardworking Americans have earned and saved for their kids’ education.  The government doesn’t deserve to take a bigger piece of that money than it already gets.

I’ve also been looking to increase opportunities for working moms.  For many, finding the right work-life balance is a constant struggle.  I’d like to see working families get a little more flexibility.  If you work overtime, you should have a choice: take the overtime pay or get that time back by receiving an equal amount of extra time off.  I helped pass a bill through the House to accomplish this last year, and I’ll be working with the new Republican Senate to try to get it over the finish line this year.

Achieving an Opportunity Economy will also require some changes to the tax code and regulatory environment to make it more fair and affordable.  We’ve done it in South Dakota and it’s produced real results.  Rosenbauer America, a company that manufactures fire rescue vehicles in Lyons, offered almost every employee a dollar-an-hour raise about a year ago, according to the Argus Leader.  They also made it easier to earn vacation days.  This wasn’t something that was mandated by the federal government; it was a decision the company made.  Why?  Our unemployment rate in South Dakota is the third lowest in the nation.  Tax rates are kept low.  And smart regulatory policies have made us one of the nation’s top states to do business. Now, companies have to compete for workers.  That drives pay and benefits up.  It works.

I am committed to securing more opportunities and freedoms for South Dakotans so you can seize every promise the American Dream has always provided.  We can and must do better.