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Make America Work Again: Our Employment Crisis

May 30, 2016

We are in the midst of an employment crisis in this country. Too few people are employed and too many who are earn less—sometimes far less—than enough to live on.

Nearly eight million people were on the unemployment rolls in April. [1] Only 62.7% of Americans of working age are employed or looking for work, the lowest percentage since 1978, [2] and this does not include the nearly 600,000 who have given up looking for work.[3]

Additionally, around three million people who are working earn at or below the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 at the federal level since 2009. [4] Living wage calculators at MIT [5] and the Economic Policy Institute [6] both indicate that $7.25 is less than one-third of a living wage for an adult with one dependent child living in Vermont or New Hampshire. Millions of other workers earn more than the minimum wage but much less than these calculated “living wages.” Almost half of all American workers earn less than the inadequate $15 per hour currently called for by various activists and politicians. [7]

Finally, around six million working people are involuntarily employed part-time and also probably earning well below a living wage. [8]

People need to work, and when they don’t, or when they work for less than a living wage, those of us who do work and earn a living wage are unfairly called upon to pick up the hefty slack, while employers reap the benefits, often, as in the case of the Walmart heirs, becoming multibillionaires in the process.

A recent study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC/Berkeley [9] determined that a mere four social welfare programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Medicaid cost $152 billion a year between 2009 and 2011. That is almost half a trillion dollars in only three years. Over half that assistance went to working families. And there are dozens of other taxpayer-funded federal, state, and local programs in addition to these.

How long would a business that only paid a third of its electric bill or half the cost of its raw materials remain open, or deserve to? And yet Walmart, only the largest employer to pay their workers less than a living wage, goes on growing year after year. Forbes magazine reported in 2014 that Walmart alone cost taxpayers about $6.2 billion a year in public assistance. [10]

We need to forge a new social contract with ourselves, setting out our rights and responsibilities. The two most important elements on the rights column would be an adequate education and a job that paid a living wage. Every U.S. citizen and legal resident should be guaranteed both. And in the responsibilities column?: Perform your job to the best of your ability and be a good citizen.

Then we can dismantle all these expensive, inefficient, ineffective, and humiliating “safety net” programs and let people enjoy the independence of which we are (almost) all capable. Those few who can’t work could be cared for. Those who can work and won’t, well, good luck to them.

When almost everyone is working and receiving a living wage, almost everyone will be paying into our shared tax pool instead of siphoning funds out of it. Tax revenue up; social “welfare” expenses down; lower taxes for all of us to pay.

Before any “political revolution,” we need a social revolution, one that acknowledges that although we are a liberty-loving, rambunctious, and ingenious people perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves, we are too easily tempted to let someone else take care of us if the opportunity is available.

We would all be much better off if our system encouraged, enabled, and, yes, expected us to exercise our natural independence rather than the contrary.

What individual of any political persuasion could offer a valid argument against such common sense? The left-leaning inclination to expand the safety net and the right-leaning inclination to limit such support to business and the one percenters, are both equally misguided. There is dignity in work, and there is equity when everyone, worker and business alike, pulls their own weight.

Our employment model needs to be based on the unique individualism, love of liberty, and instinct for self-reliance which has always characterized our people. It also needs to stop enabling so many of us—employer and employee alike—to be dependent on the rest of us.

But don’t take my word for it:

“This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States (1858-1919)

“It seems to me . . . that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country . . . and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level—I mean the wages of decent living.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States (1882-1945)

“The best social program is a good job.”
William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. (b. 1946)

Sources
[1]  http://tinyurl.com/zpu5uv
[2]  http://tinyurl.com/zpu5uv
[3]  http://tinyurl.com/h37rmuj
[4]   http://tinyurl.com/z6e53mp
[5]  http://livingwage.mit.edu/
[6]  http://www.epi.org/resources/budget/
[7]  http://tinyurl.com/h2p7h2n
[8]  
http://tinyurl.com/zmfhsbk
[9]  http://tinyurl.com/kda4v6q
[10]  http://tinyurl.com/jjyv7d3


tags: Labor | Politics | Employment

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