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.

Lessons from the 2012 Election

“If you give the people enough time, they usually will do the right thing.” ~Frank Wright

Another election season has come and gone. As usual there were losers and winners. This cycle saw a correction from the sweeping conservative wave of the 2010 midterms. President Obama won reelection in what turned out to be a more decisive victory than anyone was predicting. The Democrats made modest gains in Congress. In Minnesota the two discriminatory ballot questions: one that would have limited the potential rights of same-sex couples to marry and the another that would have prevented countless at-risk voters from voting were both rejected by a majority of the electorate. And for the first time since the early nineties the Democratic Farmer Labor party has majority control of all statewide offices. While I could spend the rest of this post, basking in progressive glory, I think I’ll take the more prudent route and discuss a few things this election has taught me.

When turnout is at its highest the United States has a slight progressive bend to it. There’s been a great deal of lamenting by some of the more extreme elements on the Right regarding how this election proves traditional America no longer exists. Mr. O’Reilly’s apocalyptic exaggerations aside, this country has changed in the last ten years. That is it changed from a center right country to a center left nation that believes we need to move forward rather than try to take things back to the “way they were.” The problems the conservatives have is rather than adapt to a changing nation by appealing to the young, women and minority voters making up this new progressive majority, they instead try to limit the rights to vote to those more favorable to their points of view. A strategy that did not pay dividends this time around.

An educated populace usually makes the right decision.When the Voter Identification amendment was first placed on the ballot, many opponents to the bill were talking like its passage was forgone conclusion. And who could blame them? Support for such a measure was polling at 80 percent at the time. Getting that number below 50 seemed almost impossible. However, thanks to the overwhelmingly successful education campaign embarked upon by many of the oppositional groups including the coalition Our Vote Our Future, support began to fade. All it took was simple one-on-one conversations explaining all the potential problems such an amendment could cause for those seeking to exercise their right to vote. By the time Minnesotan’s made their voice heard in November, the amendment was struck down by almost 54 percent of voters. Furthermore thanks to a similar campaign by Minnesotan United for All Families Minnesota became the first state in the country to strike down the discriminatory marriage amendment. Proving, when given all the information, people will usually make the morally sound decision.

The extremes are becoming further out of touch with reality every day. One simply had to tune into Fox News or listen to the more extreme elements on the right to learn this lesson first hand. Be it Karl Rove’s inability to accept that Mitt Romney did indeed lose to Barack Obama or Donald Trump’s inappropriate, borderline treasonous Tweets, those at the extreme ends of the spectrum continue to become more and more out of touch with the average voter. Not to mention the nomination of many unelectable candidates during the primary season due to increasing extremism by the fringe of the Republican party. These candidates, espousing outdated views on women’s reproductive rights and many other social issues while failing to focus on the important economic issues of the day enabled Democrats to make gains on both the state and national level. When faced with this reality, rather than accept the people of America are looking for steady leadership, many of these extremists instead chose to blame the electorate for no longer representing traditional American ideals. To paraphrase Mr. Brian Williams, this type of blind refusal to acknowledge the true nature of things put these extreme elements in danger of passing the exit of relevance into something close to irresponsibility.

Every election cycle offers the opportunity for reflection. Many thing are learned. Some, like the realization that an educated, majority of Americans tend to make the right decision give me hope for the future. While others, show that walking too far towards one ideology causes one to lose touch with the finer points of reality. Some are pointing to the recent election as a sign of a deteriorating America, going as far as circulating petitions of secession. However, I believe this election has the potential to be a historical turning point for this country. Where Republicans and Democrats are finally able to break the gridlock caused by their more extreme elements and move towards solving many of the larger issues at hand. At least until the 2016 presidential election anyways.

The Dangers of Dishonest Rhetoric

Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom. ~Thomas Jefferson

Thanks to the highly charged nature of our elections, there has been a great deal of conversation in the public discourse that is simply untrue. Barack Obama is a Muslim bent on taking away our guns. The Affordable Health Care Act is a socialist take over of healthcare. There is significant voter fraud in this country. All lies and half-truths that can be easily proven false by a quick review of the facts. Sadly, there are those who despite the obvious invalidity of these statements continue to assert them as fact. This blatant disregard for the truth has disturbing consequences for society.

Lying about our elected officials undermines their ability to craft quality policy. Say what you will about the U.S. President, but he has accomplished a great deal since coming into office. Not the least of which, was the Affordable Care Act. Sadly, this law has been unfairly characterized by its opponents as a “job killing” socialist take over of the healthcare system in America. Never mind the fact the bill was actually evidence of reaching across the aisle and taking reform ideas from there very same people who are now calling for its repeal. This blatant dishonesty makes it increasingly difficult for elected officials to craft and push policies that should be overwhelmingly supported by their constituents, but are instead bogged down by a campaign of misinformation aimed solely at discrediting the credibility of those who hold an opposing view to those spreading the disinformation.

Dishonesty increases partisan division. A great deal has been said about the divide between the two major political ideologies in America. One of the major reasons for this is both sides present claims that are in direct opposition to one another. While I would argue one side tends to rely more on facts and logic when crafting their arguments, the reality is the right and left tend to stretch or flat-out ignore the truth when it is to their advantage. Furthermore, thanks to the internet, it is easy to find sources that will reinforce our preconceived notions: no matter how untrue they may be. This encourages a rigidity in ideological ideals that loses sight of the realities of policy, which further exacerbates the already divisive climate of our current political discourse.

As the dishonesty of rhetoric increases it is difficult to determine what is true and what is fabrication. With so many politicians, analysts, and other experts making assertions with little basis in fact it becomes increasingly difficult to wade through the murk to ascertain the true nature of things. Couple this with the fact there is always another politician or expert willing to disagree with something regardless of whether there disagreement has any basis in reality,  it is no wonder so many people are turned off by political discussion. It is hard to have a civil discussion, when at least one side must not be telling the truth. Furthermore, as I’ve mentioned before, the media in their attempts to remain unbiased are hesitant to call a spade a spade when it comes to blatantly false statements leaving the citizenry to either take the words of those they already agree with, or spend countless hours they probably do not have doing the in-depth research needed to ascertain the truth.

The dangers of dishonesty in the public discourse undermines our elected officials ability to create policy, leads to increased partisan division, and makes it increasingly difficult to determine what is and is not true. It is our moral imperative as society to work towards reversing this disturbing trend. We must do our best to vet any statements made by digging just a bit deeper when researching the things public officials say. Not allowing assertions that are obviously untrue to go unchallenged. Anything less does a disservice to the democratic process and the validity of those we elect.

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.

Door Number Seven: Spiritual Satisfaction

“We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The concept of spirituality is layered with levels of complexity far beyond the average person’s understanding. For some it is ascribed to a specific religious dogma, including everything from Christianity to Buddhism. While for others it is achieving a level of inner peace achieved through a combination of meditation and philosophical study. Even for those who adhere to a life of non-spiritually, and choose to rely on the principles of scientific, rational thought as their governing force this guiding force too could be conceived as a form of spirituality. How we open this door is unimportant, as long as we make the effort to do so.

One’s spiritual journey is paramount to understanding what motivates us. At its core, pursuing this philosophical base is at the center of everything we do. Without it, we are merely going through motions dictated to us by a parade of outside forces. Whether it be society, peer influences, or media representations of happiness there are a number of things that seek to guide our lives. When we discover our personal spirituality, we are able to identify what is most important and base our actions around it. This realization enables us stay focused on the goals and tasks vital to our personal satisfaction.

Having a solid spiritual base enables us to handle the uncontrollable events that arise from the natural chaos of the world. The best laid plans can be thrown in to turmoil without a moments notice. Tragedies like terminal illness and the sudden death of a loved one sneak up on us like some sort of ninja assassin. This can leave us with a feeling of despair and a sense that the only justice in an unjust world is chance.  All Dark Knight references aside, the key to overcoming this darkness is having a sense there is something larger than mere survival guiding our life. That even though we may not be able to control everything that happens to us, as long as we persevere and adhere to our own personal code it is possible to carry on.

Striving towards some type of spirituality is central to becoming the best versions of ourselves. Most forms of philosophical and spiritual guidance are heavily focused on creating a moral code of guiding principles. This process forces us to examine our individual strengths and weaknesses at a level possibly never experienced otherwise. It causes us to question our initial reactions. To truly think about why we act the way we do. Look beneath the superficiality of our existence to the deeper concepts that govern our life. Many times it enables us to reach beyond our perceived mental and emotional limitations to become a more well-rounded person capable of interacting with the world around us in a way never before possible.

Spiritual understanding is a key element to living a full life. Whether it serve as a way to better understand our motivations, a method for dealing with the uncertainty surrounding us, or a means to self-improvement, it is door that will lead to greater fulfillment. I am sure there are many who will read this and scoff at the notion that spirituality is necessary to satisfaction.  However, by rethinking our notions of what defines our spirituality and how it can be bolstered through our personal experiences, one might find such a journey well worth the effort. And of course there is always the chance that spiritual understanding could lead to one becoming a Jedi. A lofty goal we all should aspire to.

Door Number Two: Satisfying Social Interaction

“To be social is to be forgiving.”~ Robert Frost

As an introvert, sometimes I wonder if it would be so bad to withdraw from society and live out the rest of my days in a cave somewhere. However, the reality is that for even those of us who gain our energy from being alone, having a vibrant social life is important. Which is why this is the second door we must unlock in our quest for a complete life. The social circles we belong to serve as a support network on many levels. Having a solid base of friends to confide in helps one navigate the rocky waters of life in away no amount of solitude can match. In addition, theses relationships provide a marketplace of viewpoints and ideas to draw from when making the major decisions in life. Plus, going to movies and concerts alone is highly overrated. However, as with most things in life there comes the possibility of drama and disappointment. Fortunately, there a few steps one can take to minimize these pitfalls.

Accept your friends for who they are. The worst thing we can do is to set unrealistic standards for the people in our lives. We must learn to accept both their good and bad qualities. This is especially true when it comes to our friends. If we only accept the characteristics and points of view we find favorable, our friendships are inevitably going to fall flat. Only by embracing every aspect of their personalities  will we avoid unnecessary disappointment, and be able to enjoy our friends company to its fullest.

Be flexible and decisive. While we usually end up associating with those who share at least some of our interests, difficulties can arise when trying to plan things for the group at large. However, if there is someone in your social group who excels at planning fun activities, a willingness to try new things can go a long way in creating a satisfying social interaction. Furthermore, if you are spending time with a group of people who are somewhat indecisive, it is important to be willing to take charge of the situation and come up with plans of your own. While they may not be super excited by the thought of watching all three Star Wars movies (though they should be), it will at least inspire someone to come up with an acceptable alternative. Like watching all three Lord of the Rings extended editions.

Fully commit to enjoying every social interaction in your life. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice for getting the most out of one’s social life. Any activity can be entertaining if you have the right mindset. Having a positive attitude will not only help you to enjoy what might otherwise be an unpleasant situation (e.g. dancing), but will create an overall positive experience for all parties involved. In the unlikely event the activity still turns out be a huge disappointment, the friend who planned will appreciate your enthusiasm, making them more willing to get on board with any adventures you mastermind in the future (e.g. jumping in a lake at 3:00 am).

While there is always a chance for disappointment when it comes to the social realm, by taking proactive steps we can minimize most potential let downs. Valuing our friends for who they are, being open to whatever comes our way while still being willing to take charge if necessary, and embracing every situation completely will go along way in creating the satisfying social interaction vital to a complete life. Life is filled with complications. So why not keep things interesting with a bit of social interaction every once in a while? Well, unless of course you happen upon your precious. In which, case I know of some prime real estate under the Misty Mountains..

The Youth Movement: Continuing to Fight

“We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the Future are represented by suffering millions; and the Youth of a Nation are the trustees of Posterity.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

A great deal has been made of the fact that the youth vote in the 2012 election will pale in comparison to the historic numbers we saw in 2008. Sadly, there is a good chance those prognosticators might be right. The promise of real change offered by then presidential candidate Barack Obama was a motivating force behind millions of young voters not only making their voice heard through the power of their votes, but through engaging in a political process often dominated by older generations. However, as with most things, the reality things don’t always work out as planned coupled with a depressed economy that has had an especially dramatic effect on the young adults just entering the workforce or currently in college have caused many young people to become disenfranchised with the process. Despite this disappointment, it is more important than ever our generation engages to combat the age centric policies that are sure to effect this country for years to come.

Rising college costs have burdened an entire generation. According to the Project on Student Debt, the average college debt a student faces is more than $25,000. So many of individuals begin their adult lives behind financially with no physical assets to show for it. It is hard to think of purchasing a house when there is already a pile of loans hanging over your head. Instead of taking immediate steps to mitigate this debt, it is being used as a political football. Take the proposed increase of the Stafford Federal Loan interest rate from 3.4% to 6.8%. Instead of immediately passing legislation to extend the lower rate, many elected officials are using this issue as a political football to accomplish other policy goals. While the very fact this debate is taking place shows an interest in the fates of the young, unless they continue to make their voices heard it will soon fall to the wayside as issues being touted by an older, more engaged populace rise to the surface.

No one has felt the sting of unemployment as sharply as those just entering the workforce. So many individuals did what they were told. They went to college and worked hard. Then just as they were about to make a difference and start the jobs that would help them pay back the debt accrued while pursuing that education, the economy crashed. Droves of people were laid off, and those who would have otherwise retired were forced to remain employed as their savings dried up. As a result, so many college graduates have been forced to move back in with their parents and have been stuck working part-time jobs and are nowhere near starting the career they were promised. If this trend is ever going to be reversed it will require government investment that awards companies who hire this emerging workforce and invest in preparing them for the 21st century. Something less likely to happen if the young voters of this country do not stand up and have their voices heard.

If this country is going to face the challenges posed by the future it is vital the young make their priorities a central issue in every election. The only way that will happen is if they engage in the political process at every level: from the ballot box to the doorbell. They must fight against policies that favor preserving a status quo that pours billions of dollars into the a defense budget much larger than it needs to be. They must continue to fight for healthcare for all, not just the oldest Americans. Finally, they must not sit back and watch as higher education in this country becomes almost inaccessible while the rich continue to benefit from policies that sacrifice long-term investment for short-term gain. After all, to a paraphrase the man who inspired the beginning of this generations march towards excellence, we  must be the change that we seek.