What 2020 Senate Candidates Aren’t Talking About… Yet

The campaign for U.S. Senate here in Colorado is starting to attract a lot of attention. The crowded field of candidates have staked positions on topics from climate change and guns to health care and student debt, but many other issues have yet to get significant airtime despite their importance to Colorado and the country.

As this race heats up, the Bell Policy Center wants to draw attention to a suite of topics bubbling just below the surface of many policy conversations happening across the state. We hope all candidates for U.S. Senate, regardless of party affiliation, take seriously the need for clear responses and bold solutions to problems facing many Coloradans.

Here are four big issues we know must be addressed by Senate candidates between now and November 2020.

Universal Portable Benefits

The employer-employee relationship is vastly different than it was a half century ago. Yet, our benefits system is broadly the same as it was when color television went mainstream. Despite job changes becoming more common and most families being composed of two working parents, employer-sponsored benefits aren’t keeping up with these and a host of other changes. Why haven’t we upgraded the social insurance system for our workers?

We need programs tied to the individual and not just a place of work. That means if someone changes jobs, or decides to go out on their own, or is contracting between various businesses, they would retain protections and insurance. With fewer and fewer private businesses offering retirement plans and many workers without access to earned paid medical and family leave, it’s time candidates use their platform to push for programs that will benefit workers.

Future of Work & Learning

The nature of work is changing. So are the needs for training and education. In many ways, these ideas go hand-in-hand. As the relationship between work and the economy shifts, we need to rethink how we approach education and learning.

As the cost of a postsecondary education increases and the availability of online learning increases, it has become obvious a traditional college education isn’t an option for everyone. Still, there are other roads to achieve the necessary skills to earn a good living. For many jobs, continual learning is not only optimal, but a necessity. For others, the specter of automation may make some jobs obsolete, driving people to learn new skills in order to achieve new opportunities. Other solutions need to be found for workers who aren’t classified as employees, but work multiple jobs either part time or freelance, as well as adults newly entering the workforce.

While some have offered solutions to a few of these issues — Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH) has been especially vocal — there is still a need for a clear debate on the challenges of our changing economy and possible solutions. Some may include expanded opportunities at community colleges, increased apprenticeship programs, and lifelong learning accounts so workers can continue their education without having to break the bank or go into debt to learn a new skill.

The Predatory Economy

Vulnerable consumers are taken in by scams, or even legitimate businesses that exploit loopholes or broken systems. Colorado has worked hard to put measures in place to curb some of these practices — like the Proposition 111 victory to cap all lending rates at 36 percent — but there is more that needs to be done, especially at the federal government level.

The current administration has cut many consumer protections, including erecting barriers to student loan relief, hamstringing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from fulfilling its mission of helping consumers, and rolling back the regulation that ensures financial planners act in their clients’ best interests. Furthermore, mandatory arbitration has become an issue for many with the House of Representatives just passing a bill to curb the common practice used by companies to escape transparency and liability on issues from compensation to sexual harassment to scamming consumers.

We need Senate candidates in Colorado to lead the charge and bring some of the smart policy responses in our state to Washington D.C.

Healthy Aging

Colorado, like much of the country, is rapidly aging. The systems and structures that support our older adults, their unpaid caregivers, and the long-term care workforce need updating.

By applying an aging lens to any number of issues, candidates have the ability to create more robust and holistic policy solutions. For example, there’s growing recognition of the need for family-friendly workplaces, ones that recognize employees have unpaid care responsibilities outside of their paid positions. Applying an aging lens to this need broadens the focus from workers with children to include the significant portion of Coloradans taking care of older loved ones.

Similarly, when candidates talk about the need to create well-paying jobs, they should consider ways to both support older adults who want — or need — to remain in the workforce, as well as members of the caring economy, like home health and personal care aides. By applying an aging lens to their policies, Colorado’s Senate candidates can take positive steps forward in creating a state supportive of healthy aging for everyone.