Strengthening Pathways to the Middle Class

Working full time, year round is not enough to guarantee a middle-class standard of living. Nearly one in five working Iowa families, in fact, does not earn enough to meet basic needs. There are a number of things that could be done to help such families move into the middle class. Policies are needed to improve both the demand-side and the supply-side of the labor market. On the demand side, we need more middle-class jobs with decent wages and benefits. On the supply side, we need more workers with the education and skills needed to qualify for most good-paying jobs.

What we focus on here, however, is a set of policies called work supports that help low-wage working families survive and keep their children out of poverty, and that provide a stepping stone to a better education and a better job. We lay out a set of policies to strengthen these pathways to the middle class:
• Reform Iowa’s Child Care Assistance program to eliminate a huge disincentive called the cliff and to make it more effective as a help to parents trying to improve their skills and raise their wage level.
• Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide even stronger support to low-wage workers, encourage more work effort, and keep children out of poverty.
• Expand the Child and Dependent Care Credit to cushion the loss of Child Care Assistance.

These reforms should be combined with education policies that ensure future generations of Iowans receive a quality and affordable education, from preschool through post-secondary institutions. This will require expansion of the universal preschool program, support of K-12 education through adequate funding of state foundation aid, and continued efforts to make post-secondary education more affordable by restraining tuition growth.