Paving the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

American-Flag1If America is a boulevard of broken dreams, and two political parties, fifteen presidential candidates, and nation of political junkies blowing head gaskets in their minds to produce opinions all want to repave the boulevard and restore this great nation to its lofty status.  I am no exception and in the wake of the two debates, the eight elite Republicans on Tuesday night (11/10/2015) and the three Democrats last night (11/14/2015), my puny little brain is in hyper drive.  Nobody wants to repave the boulevard more than I do is it is this very boulevard that serves as the highway to the forgotten American Dream.  But the dream remains out of reach if we only pave parts of the boulevard.

One of the hot topics that was brought up at both debates is the issue of raising the minimum wage, an issue I believe my fellow Republicans did not get right.  In addition, the Democrat opposition failed to complete the square, as it were.  I believe in raising the minimum wage for two reasons, one of which is it is long overdue.  I have mixed feelings as to whether or not we should jump all the way to fifteen dollars an hour; ten dollars an hour in North Carolina goes farther than fifteen dollars an hour in Connecticut right now.  It seems to me as we should maintain the status quo of having the federal government set a minimum standard and leave it up to each state to determine if the federal standard is high enough or if they need something higher; it is simply time to raise that minimum standard.  If I were a state governor facing a huge budget deficit with a realization that budgets cannot not should not be balanced on the backs of the taxpayers and did not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and attempt to balance on the backs of corporations who could simply move out of state taking the jobs with them, I would want a minimum wage that guarantees a paycheck twenty percent higher than what welfare pays.  It is difficult for a welfare recipient with a family to support to take a job that pays lower than what he or she is receiving on the dole.  But if any full-time job paid no less than twenty percent of welfare and the biggest transition from welfare to work since the welfare state was established in the 1930s, the money [my] state would save in welfare payments could be reinvested in paying down the deficit without any imposition to either the corporation of the working [man].  But it will only work if it is part of a complete labor and welfare reform package.

Democrats use Seattle, Washington as a prime example to make their point.  The city of Seattle raised the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour and their economy is booming.  What they neglect to mention is the economic boom is not due to an increased minimum wage; but an increase in tech jobs from tech companies located in that area such as Google and Microsoft and it is because of those six-figure and near six-figure tech jobs that allows the state of Washington and the city of Seattle to aid the lower classes with a generous minimum wage.  The same would not work in a Southeastern state like North Carolina were the crux of the economy is agriculture and manufacturing and in Connecticut, the state that needs it the most, the minimum wage is becoming superfluous with companies leaving the state.  Employers only have to pay minimum wage if the hire you and if there are no employers to hire, you know the score.

I believe a minimum wage increase has to be part of a complete labor and welfare reform package.  Suppose are earning minimum wage in a state with a minimum wage of ten dollars an hour and you are working forty hours a week.  The legislature votes for a bill that would raise it to fifteen dollars in hour and the governor signs it into law.  The company you work for has no choice but to raise your hourly rate from ten to fifteen, but suppose the company redefines the minimum full-time work week as a thirty hour week?  You are back to square one and still cannot support yourself and your family.  Minimum wage without minimum hours creates a dog chasing its tail scenario.  And when it comes to unskilled labor and menial jobs, fifteen dollars and hour may be too big an investment if the employee has to be dismissed for poor performance.  As a viable alternative, I suggest the 35-35 rule.  I had the good fortune through a friend of my father’s to meet a man named Ralph Kiner shortly after I graduated college.  Ralph Kiner was a hall-of fame baseball player playing most of his years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then a broadcaster for the New York Mets for over fifty years.  Kiner was also a student of the game of baseball as I am and could tell stories of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth from literature, memorabilia, and conversation with his elders and mentioned the minimum salary for a major league baseball player before World War II was $6,000 a year, but that an major league owner was only obligated to pay the full $6,000 if the player was on the roster the entire six months of the season; otherwise only had to guarantee $5,000.  This is the essence of my 35-35 rule.  The first thirty-five refers to a minimum work week of 35 hours, which can be a little more one week, a little less another.  I multiply this thirty-five by fifty, indicating working fifty out of a fifty-two week year and come up with the number 1,750 hours a year.  I would keep the hourly rate in the ballpark of $9.15 as a reasonable compromise.  However, I would guarantee no full-time employee earns less than $35,000 a year.  On the employee’s first paycheck after his or her one year anniversary on the job, there would be an additional subsidy on that check that would cover the difference between $35,000 and the total money earned from the hourly rate under the condition that the total hours worked for the year was 1,750 or more (35X50).  States that choose to have minimum wages and minimum full-time hours that would allow the lowest wage earners to earn more than $35,000 hourly would be exempt from this subsidy requirement.

At the Democrat debate, they also brought up college tuition and the student loan crisis.  All three candidates suggested tuition-free state colleges to eliminate our youth graduating with a lifetime of debt from the inability to pay student loans, especially in a deficient job market.  This is another illustration on why a complete package is required.  Even a tuition-free education at a school like the University of Connecticut at Storrs can still leave behind a lot of debt as the pupil would still be responsible for room and board and other incidental expenses if there is no employment or higher-paying employment after graduation.  And waiving all the expenses will bankrupt the state college system in any state.

Free college without complete education reform at the primary and secondary levels (K – 12) will not result in the expected benefits.  You cannot compare us with Great Britain as long as America continues to produce academically-deficient pupils.  A typical standard in effect in most institutes for higher learning is the requirement for a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 (out of 4.0, usually a C-grade is two quality points).  If a pupil’s GPA drops below that 2.0 mark, a typical remedy is a tool called academic probation which gives the pupil the next semester to raise that GPA back to 2.0 or higher.  For most colleges and universities, academic probation is more desirable than immediate dismissal because the institute continues to receive tuition money from the probationary student.  A free-college system would shift the onus to the institute itself, academic probation can get too expensive, and colleges will change the rules and if the GPA odometer slips one one-thousandth below 2.000, automatic dismissal with no second chance. I am not sure we should be that ruthless, but such a system could work if we create a system where every high school graduate is academically complete.  But if we continue to hand diplomas to the academically deficient, look to your left, look to your right—one of you won’t be here next semester will transform into look to your left, look to your right, two of you won’t be here next semester.  If we only graduate one-third of our nation’s youth, we will face the biggest skills gap in the history of this country.  Economic booms and recessions come and go.  But no economic growth can correct a stagnant or declining job market due to skills gaps.  With an education reform package that works, I think a better system than tuition-free college is tuition-reimbursed college.  I would have my state colleges continue to charge tuition and I would work with the legislature and the college presidents to ensure reasonable figures.  I would reimburse ninety-percent of four years worth of tuition paid to those who graduate and that ninety percent reimbursement check would pay off seventy percent of the student loan—the other thirty percent can be paid in a reasonable length of time through employment so long as job creation incentives are in place.  Extra semesters would be an out-of-pocket expense and those who do not graduate would not be eligible for reimbursement, but with less than four years worth of debt, a livable minimum wage scenario in place having a domino effect on the better jobs not requiring a college degree paying more than they do now would allow those loans to be paid as well.  But it will only work if we look at complete reform packages, not randomly legislating parcels such as the only the minimum wage and only college tuition.

These are two examples of how we can repave the entire Boulevard of Broken Dreams and ensure the route to the American Dream is passable without any road blocks or detours.  It is through the wisdom of both political ideologies and implementing from the side slightly right of center that can get the job done.  Let’s pave the boulevard with rock-solid pavement and the realistic goals of good hard-working Americans; not just on good intentions that ultimately pave the road to the one place nobody wants to go.

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