Jobs, We Need Better Jobs

Jobs, We Need Better Jobs

Investing in better jobs is the best way to end poverty.

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The US is facing a problem, income inequality, stagnating wages, people in poverty, all and all for the average American the US economy isn't treating them too well. The problem is "the economy" is broad, and the problems in it are complex. Equally complex are people's lives, and the fabric of poverty. But there are trends, and facts which can help guide us through what is happening, and how we got here. There are also people with solutions, and ideas of where to go next.

As of 2017, the US poverty rate was 12.3%. To me, this feels like an astonishingly large number. It means in 10 people, 1 person is in poverty. Maybe we can understand it a bit more by diving into this number. How is the poverty rate figured out, and who all is in that 12.3%?

The poverty rate is split into two parts, the poverty guideline, and the poverty threshold. The poverty guideline is a broader scope, you can think of it as a rounded off version of the poverty threshold, often used for calculating statistics, such as "the number of people in Illinois eligible for Medicaid". What we are concerned with is the poverty threshold, which the guideline is based on. The threshold is also the number calculated to actually figure out if your family falls below or above the poverty line, and therefore what services you get (although some services use the poverty guideline).

The poverty threshold was first invented by Orshansky, a government worker in the Department of Agriculture, who knew that "families of three or more persons spent about one third of their after-tax income on food. She then multiplied the cost of the USDA economy food plan by three to arrive at the minimal yearly income a family would need. Using 1963 as a base year, she calculated that a family of four, two adults and two children would spend $1,033 for food per year. Using her formula based on the 1955 survey, she arrived at $3,100 a year ($1,033 x3) as the poverty threshold for a family of four in 1963." Although we do use an up-to-date price of food when figuring out the poverty threshold, that does not mean that the poverty threshold is up-to-date. One big reason for this is "families no longer spend one-third of their income on food and two-thirds on other basic needs. Food now accounts for something closer to one-sixth of the family budget. Housing, transportation and utilities are much larger components of family spending." Meaning that a more accurate picture would involve multiplying the price of food a family needs by 6, instead of by 3.

The government does have a more accurate method on hand though, Supplemental Poverty Measure, which "estimates the cost of food, clothing, shelter and utilities, then adds a further 20% for other expenses." By using the cost of several areas, it is able to provide a clearer picture of what it takes to get by in America. In 2016 the SPM showed that 14% of people were in poverty, opposed to the traditional method which only counted 12.7%.

Although this number is concerned, it isn't all too surprising. With unemployment at a low, and wages stagnating, it's no wonder that poverty is where it's at. The question now is, how come there aren't better jobs?

The main idea is that "jobs that require middle-range skills have been declining, while those involving skills at both the lower and higher end of the spectrum have been growing." Combined with a decline in union membership, and there are fewer jobs available, and for those who get jobs, there is less of an ability to advocate for better pay. It is also important to add that of people in poverty who are eligible to work, who are 18-64-year-old able-bodied non-student and non-retired folk, 62.6% work, and 44.3% are work full time (as of 2015). Clearly, it would be great to see this higher, but it shows that the majority of people in poverty are working. And for those who can't find work, there are services like Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF).

Upon seeing this you might think that it was a good thing that TANF is often only available for people who are working or at least looking for work. And it's completely understandable why, you are hoping to see the number of employed people in poverty go from 60% to closer to 100%, which is a great goal to have. The problem is that in making this a requirement we are assuming that people in poverty will only work if forced, and that is not the case, in fact, "the evidence indicates that such requirements do little to reduce poverty, and in some cases, push families deeper into it."

The problems here are not individual, no more so than being in poverty is. Low wages, poverty, they're symptoms of the US's larger problem, ignoring the problems of everyday Americans. One example of how to combat this trend is the Progressive Caucus' People's Budget. The People's Budget would focus on less military spending and higher taxes for the rich to pay for 500 billion in public investments, and going towards job-creations, all while running a deficit.

Right now the system is set up to prevent some people from succeeding. Although the reasons are complicated, the solution isn't; jobs, stable, well-paying jobs.

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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To Fix Taxes, We Have To Rethink 'Wealthy'

"Wealthy" doesn't mean the same for everyone.

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When discussing taxes today, so many politicians are quick to rush to the adage "tax the rich." Bernie Sanders has called for the rich to be taxed higher to pay for Medicare for All. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for a 70% tax on the wealthy.

However, all of these proposals are missing a key thing: a true definition of rich.

When thinking about what counts as rich, it is important to distinguish between the "working wealthy" and the "investment wealthy."

The working wealthy are the people in society that get paid highly because they have a high skill set and provide an extremely valuable service that they deserve just compensation for. This class is made up of professionals like lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. In addition, the working wealthy are characterized by another crucial aspect: over a long term calculation of their earned income over time, they don't come out as prosperous as their annual incomes would seem to suggest. This is because this set of the wealthy has to plunge into student debt for degrees that take years to acquire. These jobs generally also require a huge amount of time invested in lower-paying positions, apprenticeships, and internships before the big-money starts coming in.

On the other hand, the investment wealthy is completely different. These are the people that merely sit back and manipulate money without truly contributing to anything in society. A vast majority of this class is born into money and they use investments into stocks and bonds as well as tax loopholes to generate their money without actually contributing much to society as a whole.

What makes the investment wealthy so different from the working wealthy is their ability to use manipulative techniques to avoid paying taxes. While the working wealthy are rich, they do not have AS many resources or connections to manipulate tax laws the way that the investment wealthy can. The investment wealthy has access to overseas banking accounts to wash money though. The investment wealthy can afford lawyers to comb over tax laws and find loopholes for ridiculous prices. This is tax evasion that the working wealthy simply does not have access to.

That is why it is so incredibly important to make sure that we distinguish between the two when discussing tax policy. When we use blanket statements like "tax the rich," we forget the real reasons that the investment wealthy are able to pay such low taxes now. Imposing a larger marginal tax rate will only give them more incentive to move around taxes while squeezing the working wealthy even more.

Because of this, in our taxation discourse, we need to focus first on making sure people pay their taxes, to begin with. Things like a tax of Wall Street speculation, capital gains taxes, a closing of loopholes, and a simplification of the tax code. These things will have a marked improvement in making sure that the investment wealthy actually pays the taxes we already expect of them now. If we stick to the same message, the only thing we will be changing is the rate that the uber-wealthy are avoiding.

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