The Complications of Employment

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“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” – Oliver Wendall Holmes

Realistically speaking, looking for a job should not be complicated. In order for society to succeed, it would only make sense that everyone should be able to find decent paying work. Unfortunately, far too often the work available (I’m looking at you service industry) doesn’t even pay enough to allow someone to pay the bills required to live in the area the job is located, let alone have extra money for savings and bit of entertainment from time-to-time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have to work to get ahead in life, I just think anyone who puts in 60+ hours of work or gets the requisite education should not need to spend years of their life worrying about how to pay the next bill or whether they’ll ever find employment in the field of their choice. And this complicated job market isn’t just bad for the individual, it is bad for society as a whole.

Take the millennial generation for example. We grew up being told a college education was the key to a successful career, but thanks to an economic crash coupled with more efficient work procedures, there are fewer jobs available than in previous years. Not only do you have a crop of individuals who are struggling to find work, but many of them are starting out at a financial disadvantage that averages around $25,000. How is that good for the economy? How can this generation of workers be expected to take any of the innovative risks necessary to address the challenges of the coming years when they are forced to spend a vast amount of their mental capacity just finding a way to break into a job market that expects more productivity for less pay? Unless we find a solution to this problem, we’re going to end up with a generation of individuals who choose to play it safe, rather than make the big leaps forward necessary for a brighter future.

Then of course there are those, who simply can’t afford the higher education to even compete in the tight job market. These are individuals who work lower-skilled (albeit just as necessary) jobs for wages too low to live on. If someone puts in 60-hours a week at Taco Bell, why shouldn’t they make enough money to pay their bills and still have some left over to save for their future? Instead, by not having higher pay for lower-skilled workers we create a gap that will never be bridged, making it not only difficult for this group to survive, but for their children to have the opportunities to climb the ladder of success. Is there are simple solution to this issue? Probably not, but in the meantime we must find ways to raise the minimum standard for income in this country and around the world.

Say you’re one of the luck ones. You have a successful job and make an ample amount of money. How is this complicated job conundrum bad for you? Well, there’s the idea that a well-educated, employed population makes for safer society. More people making money, mean more tax revenue at the local, state, and federal level, which can they be used to improve everything from infrastructure to security. Furthermore, there’s a moral imperative here. Is it right to allow society to continue to drift apart financially? So much so that the wage of the lower earners becomes further separate from the top earners, even while the economy improves. We owe it to future generations to find a way to maintain not just our personal financial security, but that of the country and world as a whole. No one should have to go to bed worried about how they are going to pay this month’s rent, or find a job that pays enough to do so. As former U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone once said, “we all do better when we all do better.”

Ultimately, finding a job that pays enough to survive falls on the individual. We need to be proactive in gaining the necessary skills. However, that does not mean the governments and corporations of society can’t do better to makes things a bit easier for those not born into immense talent or wealth. We ought to find a way to employ those of all skill levels. Furthermore, the job search should not be so difficult or hard to break into. Practices like, rejecting applicants because they’ve been unemployed for 6 months or more need to stop. We also need to be balance out the proportion of executive to employee pay a little bit. In the long run it’ll be better for everyone, and give future generations something to look forward to.

Fresh Ideas? I Think Not.

“To summarize, then, the true Romney plan is to create an economic boom through the sheer power of Mr. Romney’s personal awesomeness.” ~Paul Krugman

As another presidential election reaches its climax, the polls in the country have tightened up dramatically. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney find themselves in a virtual dead heat in many national polls. This in due in part to what is the dampening of enthusiasm among many former Obama supporters. Add in the tendency by many independents to “throw the bums out” when thing don’t improve quickly and dramatically and it is no wonder Mitt Romney is threatening to end the Obama presidency at one term. However, the idea Romney’s proposed economic policy to reduce tax rates for everyone (including the very rich), reduce the deficit, and eliminate regulations are fresh ideas beyond the failed economic policies of his Republican predecessor just does not add up.

Take the first, and arguably most central tenet to the Romney campaign’s plan for creating jobs: tax cuts. Throughout history, Republican politicians have argued cutting taxes are the key to economic recovery. Furthermore, they have aimed those tax cuts at the higher income earners in some misplaced belief that by reducing taxes on the very rich the economic benefits will trickle down to the rest of society. However, according to a recent study, the increase in GDP from tax cuts on the very rich is statistically insignificant. Furthermore, it was similar economic policy to this that lead the country into the most recent economic recession in the first place. Hardly a fresh idea.

Another cornerstone of the Romney/Ryan proposed economic plan, is the need for deficit reduction. Not only is this not a new idea (deficit reduction has been a part of the federal policy conversation in every election over the past decade or so), the aforementioned tax cuts do nothing to help reduce the deficit. In fact, according to some, these tax cuts could amount to as much as $5 trillion addition to the national debt. While the final number regarding the amount added to the debt is not a certain, no matter how you look at it, cutting taxes will need to be paid for. As one can see, thanks to this handy tool from the New York Times, one can not reduce the deficit significantly through cuts alone without severe ramifications for programs that benefit millions of Americans. Rather than a boon to the economy, this is a merely a recycled proposal to use deficit reduction as a guise to shrink the social safety net. Once again, nothing fresh about that.

The final central, albeit somewhat vague, proposal being put forth by Mitt Romney in order to stimulate the economy is to reduce regulations in order to allow to small business to prosper. There are number of problems with this idea. First, among the regulations he has targeted as needing to be eliminated or reduced are those recently placed on the financial industry by the Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a bill meant to prevent another banking crisis. This is a backwards thinking at best and could lead the economy right back to the brink of collapse. Also, treating regulatory agencies as an impediment to economic gain, rather than the protection against irresponsible business practices they are, does our society a disservice and can lead to dire consequences for the environment and health of our communities. Going after regulations, rather than acknowledging their importance in society is hardly a new proposal that will lead to massive benefits to the economy.

While there are many reasons to be dissatisfied with our current president, the reality is things have been getting progressively better. Furthermore, an economic policy focusing on reductions in the tax rate, the deficit and regulations is neither new nor the answer going forward. We must instead invest money in infrastructure, education, and energy. While Obama has not fulfilled all of his promise, I believe he has done enough to deserve another term. One thing is clear, while his vision may not be “fresh” it is the better prescription for what this country needs going forward.

The Rising Income Inequality Risk

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” ~Plutarch

It has been awhile since I graced the blogiverse with a good old-fashioned political rant, so in the interest of keeping the “political” in the political ninja lets talk about the immense income inequality in this country. More specifically, how the influence of money on the government and the increasing income disparity between the wealthy and everyone else are creating a playing field that is increasing stacked in favor of the richest Americans. This increasing disparity not only permeates vital sectors of American economic and social institutions, but if left unchecked, is a danger to the future success of this country.

The rising income gap between the richest Americans and the working class is contributing to a slow economic recovery. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The average annual earnings of the top 1 percent of wage earners grew 156 percent from 1979 to 2007; for the top 0.1 percent they grew 362 percent” (Mishel, Bivens, Gould, and Shierholz 2012). The same study found that the bottom 90 percent only increased by a mere 17 percent over the same time period. Meanwhile the cost of living has continued to increase, meaning the middle class is less able to afford to purchase the goods and services needed to boost our economy domestically. Despite what some people will tell you, all the trickle down by the 1 percent in the world is not enough to make up for the loss of purchase power that comes from a vibrant well taken care of middle class.

As the middle class becomes less secure financially, the next generations are left to fend for themselves when it comes to funding their much-needed higher education. Over the past ten years a college education has risen exponentially. Tuition at an average university has risen over 100 percent during the same time period. Unfortunately, government aid on both the state and federal levels have not come close to matching this increase. Furthermore, as middle class families have continued to see their incomes stagnate and shrink they’ve been less able to put aside the money needed to shoulder this heavy burden. Leaving many of the best and brightest poor and middle class college students burdened with working full-time and taking out thousands of dollars of student loan debt just to get the training they need to contribute to the economic engine of this country. All of this leads to young generation that is entering their working lives buried in debt and ill equipped to contribute to the financial growth our nation needs to reach its full potential.

The increased financial burden on the American people coupled with the uneven influence of monied interests on the political process is creating a sense of despair and apathy among younger generations unhealthy to a functioning democracy. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, Citizens United and its complete dismantling of campaign finance laws meant to curb the influence of big money donors has severely damaged the accessibility of electoral politics in this country. This coupled with the constant struggle to survive many young, middle-class, and poor Americans face in light of a depressed job market and massive personal debt is making engagement in the process increasingly difficult for all but the wealthiest Americans. This nation is and should not be an Aristocracy. However, if we continue down this path where the rich continue to get richer atop the economic mountain while everyone else continues to slide further down the slope, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Does this means we should give up? Do what we can to leap into the echelons of the wealthy before it’s too late? Not if we believe in the principles of freedom this country is founded on. The middle class, the poor and yes even the wealthy should work together to implement policies that bring us all a bit closer together. This means paying our hard-working members of the bottom 90 percent enough money to live a semi-comfortable lifestyle with a little left over for a rainy day. Even if that means the richest Americans have to sacrifice a small-portion of their substantial wealth. Furthermore, it means investing in the next generation of citizens by putting money into curbing the costs of higher education and finding creative ways to reduce or eliminate most of their debt. Lastly, we must stop thinking of those less fortunate than us as merely lazy, and start taking steps to ensure everyone in this country is given a fair chance at success. Only then will we cease to be a society of haves and have-nots and come together to build a future worthy of the principles this country was built on.

The Many Roles of Responsibility

“With great power comes great responsibility.”–Uncle Ben, Spider Man

While I agree with Uncle Ben on this one, I think responsibility comes to us all, no matter what our circumstances may be. We grow up being taught we need to be accountable for our actions. A central part to much of what surrounds the political debate today revolves around who is to blame. Some would argue we as individuals must take responsibility for our place in the world to preserve our freedom. While others, believe it is the role of the government to spread out the burden amongst the largest amount of people possible so no one individual suffers unnecessarily. Even if we ignore both the realm of policy and the advice of our parents, we are still faced with responsibility when it comes to the notion of whether we are the captains of our fate, or merely pawns in a grand game of chess. However one approaches the concept of responsibility, it is important to consider what it truly means in context.

Our first brush with responsibility is probably the most important one. We start our lives from a very selfish place, focused solely on satisfying the basic needs of existence. At some point we need to be taught the world does not revolve around us and one is liable for their actions. Its no longer okay to take our friend’s toy simply because we want it. If we decide to pursue such a theft we must suffer the consequences. It is in this formative stage we learn the necessity, and hopefully, the value of owning up to our choices. If we do not we will probably get worked up about the unfairness of life and end up like this guy.

Then there is the political debate. The emphasis on one’s personal onus is most notable when it comes to the issues of taxes and social safety nets. There are many who think we should have little to no taxes and allow those responsible enough to succeed unlimited freedom and everyone else to languish in poverty. The problem with this debate is it assumes the only factor in determining where one falls on the economic and social ladders is their level of accountability. When in reality, there are many factors at stake, including: happenstance, actions by the powerful to keep the those without where they are and opportunity. Does this mean responsibility should not play a role in the public debate on policy? Hardly. What it does mean, is instead of merely focusing on our own individual burdens, we should expand our view to include society as a whole. It is the policy makers recognizing this who truly fulfill the duties they were elected to carry out.

Perhaps the single most complicated application of responsibility is in the realm of our fate. Many a philosopher and prophet have attempted to explain our role in the universe. With most assertions falling somewhere between complete control of our destiny (Han Solo) to a faith in a higher power guiding everything we do (Obi-Wan Kenobi). No matter where you fall on this cosmic debate, it is important to remember we should not use our beliefs to excuse our behaviors. Ultimately, we are the one’s in charge ofour actions. Whether preordained or not, the freedom to choose is a fact of life. By recognizing this, it is possible to coexist with each other no matter how we answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

While sometimes the irresponsible path seems easier and more appealing, it is important we do not succumb to this temptation. Whether it be at the basic level we learned as children, in our political rhetoric, or the attempts at understanding our place in the world, we must recognize and accept the consequences of life. Only then can we hope to be the best versions of ourselves. As the great Winston Churchill once said, “the price of greatness is responsibility.”

The Challenges of Equality

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it seems worthwhile to reflect on the nature of equality. King himself dedicated his life to the cause of civil rights for all. His, along with the many others’, leadership has enabled this country to reach a place where an African American can be elected to the highest office in the land during an election where one of his main competitor’s for the presidency was a woman. Something unheard of during King’s time. However, while we have come a long way in achieving justice and equality in this country, there are still many areas where it’s pursuit has either stagnated or gotten worse. It is important we not only recognize these areas, but understand why they persist.

Income inequality is becoming increasingly more prevalent in this country. As has been mentioned previously, one of the reason for this is, rather than take on the tax burden to help move this country forward economically, the monied interests at the top spend ample resources ensuring their tax rates not only remain static, but in some cases decrease thanks to loopholes and deductions unavailable to the average American. In addition, the United States has controlled a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth for most of recent history (somewhere between %25-%30). As the rest of the developing world begins to catch up with the United States, it is inevitable the amount of wealth they control will also increase, with the U.S.’s share decreasing. However, so far many in the richest 1% have become protectionist with their money leaving this burden on the middle class. This income disparity can not continue if we are to meet the economic challenges of the coming century.

Educational attainment and opportunity still remains an area of shocking inequality. The disparity between rich and poor neighborhoods, minority and white students, affluent and impoverished students is an enormous problem. The issue can be traced back to a variety of factors from the property tax funding system of public education to the effects poverty has on a child’s ability to focus during their formative years of education. There have been a number of initiatives sponsored in an attempt to address this issue, not the least of which being the controversial and arguably unsuccessful No Child Left Behind Act that, amongst other things, attempted to improve the standardized test scores of students seen as “falling behind.” This is inexorably tied to the aforementioned issue of unequal income in this country, and it is vital this issue be addressed if we are to move forward as a country.

Racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality continues to remain an area in need of improvement. There is still a great deal of inequality when it comes to gender, race, and sexual orientation in this country. Women still make less than their male counterparts doing the same work. In many states, same-sex couples are still being prevented from marrying and receiving the legal benefits their opposite-sex counterparts enjoy. In everything from quality of education to income there continues to be a vast chasm between racial minorities in America and the majority Caucasian class. While we have made progress, it is important we recognize these discrepancies exist and continue to work towards building a more united, equal society.

In the face of all this inequality it is easy to get discouraged. With so much work needing to be done in the areas of civil rights, educational opportunities, and income distribution it is easy to get discouraged. However, a great deal has been accomplished by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Hubert H. Humphrey in the face of greater opposition than faced today. We must continue to recognize, while there are differences separating us, our values and desires for a prosperous future ultimately unite us.

Supporting President Obama in 2012

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” ~Barack Obama

Tomorrow marks the official beginning of another crazy presidential election season. The politically interested and pundits have their eyes on the Republican caucuses taking place in Iowa tomorrow night. While I am mildly intrigued by the outcome, the reality is no one participating in this contest is someone I want to see becoming our next president. Putting aside the obvious reasons, (they are who I thought they are) I want to focus on why I will be supporting their opponent and current United States President, Barack Obama. While he has not been perfect, and there are plenty of criticisms one could level from either side of aisle, I still support him above everyone else for a number of reasons.

He is who I thought he was. A great deal has been made about how Obama has not lived up to expectations. Which, in some ways is true. Especially, for those who actually believed he had Messianic powers and was going to to fix all of the country’s problems alone.  However, for those of us who actually listened to the things he said, either on the campaign trail or in his book, Audacity of Hope, Obama the candidate is not too far from Obama the President. He never portended to be the magical cure to all ailing the country. In his speeches on the campaign trail he often spoke of the need for the people to move this country forward, probably most prevalent in the slogan “Yes We Can.” This belief that it is up to the people, the voters and the congress, to move this country forward is what initially drew me to support our current president, and in this, I feel he has stayed true.

A great deal has been accomplished under his leadership. Simply put, he’s got the job done. Love or hate him, a great many things have been done by this president. A comprehensive, albeit controversial, healthcare reform package was passed under his leadership. A complete economic meltdown was avoided, thank to a stimulus package he strongly advocated for. One of the world’s leading terrorists was brought to justice during his stead as commander in chief. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell a discriminatory military practice that should have ended years ago was finally put to rest. The list goes on and on. While there are plenty of people out there who will probably consider many of these accomplishments catastrophes that are moving this country in the wrong direction, I would strongly disagree with that assessment. However, that is another discussion entirely.

The coming years will require a steady hand. In light of turmoil around the world it is important we have a pragmatic idealist steering the American ship. Obama fits this bill in many ways. In fact, a common criticism he has received is that he has been too cool. Not showing the passion and emotion needed to inspire the American people in the way he did on the campaign trail. While I do agree some amount of passion is needed, I believe this ability to remain cool under pressure is one of the president’s greatest assets. In recent, years the political arena has become an emotionally charged place ripe for the overblown conflict that has turned off so many Americans to the government. Obama has shown his desire to transcend this needless partisan bickering in an attempt to actually govern. While this has been met with mixed results, and is not always the best way to get things done, it is this philosophy of building consensus among the American people that makes him best suited for the challenges our nation faces.

Do I believe Barack Obama is the perfect candidate for the job of president? No. However, looking at the field of candidates, I believe he is our best option for the upcoming election. Obama’s authenticity, ability to get the job done, and coolness under pressure encourage this conviction. The job of president is an increasingly difficult role to fill. The imperfections of humanity and the diverse viewpoints we as a nation share, make it impossible to elect a capable president everyone will love. To paraphrase the 44th United States President, I guess we’ll just have to be the change we believe in.

Prognosticators Have No Place in Politics

“I always lose the election in the polls, and I always win it on election day.” – Benjamin Netanyahu

Another off-year election has come and gone, and already the talking heads are attempting to determine what this means for 2o12. Does the repudiation of many conservatively-backed referendums mean the Republican wave is over and that the Democrats are going to clean house come this time next year? Or are the Republican gains in many of the Southern states indication that the wave will continue until it sweeps Barack Obama out of office and brings a return to the Republican Empire not seen since the early years of George Bush? Depending on your inclinations you could probably make a case for either of these scenarios. However as is usually case, such presumptions are probably premature. How could this be you ask? Well…

Off-year elections are a slim sample size of the American electorate. The amount of people who typically vote in an off-year election is a miniscule amount compared to those who turnout during a presidential election. There are number of reasons for this, not the least of which being the low-profile appearance city and county elections tend to have. In any case, with such a small amount of the voting populace coming out to vote in an election like the most recent one, it is a stretch to attribute any kind of large trend to the will of so few. To say a city council member winning or a referendum failing is the will of the people is akin to implying that pirates are better than ninjas because 100 pirates managed to take down 1 ninja. Pretty ridiculous, I know.

City and County elections tend to be more personal than larger state and federal elections. In an off-year election, we are usually voting for local offices like city council and school board. These tend to be less about the partisan inclination of a certain demographic and more about the individual. The reason for this is, unlike some of the state and federal elections, its likely we know many of the candidates we are voting for. Even if we don’t know them, its likely we will meet them multiple times, and create an opinion based upon our interactions with the individual rather than getting into the minutia of party politics. We know these people and as a general rule are able to form opinions about them in ways not possible with Congressional and Presidential candidates, whom we rarely come into contact with.

A lot can happen in a year. Even if you ignore all the reasons why off-year elections are horrible indicators for foretelling future, higher turnout elections, one fact still remains. That the next election is a year away. Public attitude tends to shift a great deal over 365 days. Mainly, because things are constantly changing. The economy could be in shambles one year and rebounding miraculously the next. What seemed so important yesterday can seem insignificant in light of a catastrophe like 9/11 or the Iraq War. While either party can benefit from these circumstances, attempting to predict the outcome of elections before these unknown events occur is nigh impossible. Unless of course you have force visions, but as Anakin Skywalker found out, putting stock in such things is probably inadvisable.