Labor Day: Does America Need A Second Bill of Rights?

For large numbers of Americans the economic situation today is worse than at any time since the Great Depression. Unemployment is high and benefits are disappearing. Income is 5 percent less than in 1999. The traditional storehouses of wealth and financial security have eroded as home values have fallen and pension savings pay little more than 0 percent interest.

“The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates are available,” according to the Census Bureau.

Few examples better illustrate the changing times we face then the death of Kyle Willis. Mr. Willis, age 24, died from a tooth infection. Why? According to WLWT-TV in Cincinnati, the unemployed and uninsured father and aspiring paralegal could afford either pain medication or antibiotics — but not both. His face swollen, he got the pain medication. Meanwhile the infection spread to his brain.

In a rich country with massive investments in healthcare why should anyone have the dilemma faced by Mr. Willis?

Perhaps Mr. Willis and many other people would have better options had the country adopted the “Second Bill of Rights” proposed in 1944 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Here’s what Roosevelt said as America fought wars in Europe and Asia:

The Second Bill of Rights

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.

For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Some will say that what Roosevelt proposed was simply a form of socialism or an outmoded notion of altruism the country can ill-afford, but you have to wonder what the daughter left behind by Mr. Willis will think when she grows up. Is the cost of treating a toothache really worth the loss of a parent?

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