On Wednesday, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a seminar on Restoring the Middle Class. Senator Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, outlined his need plan to attempt to restore middle class section of America. He began with “Over the past year, Republicans have been pushing not just misguided budgets, but a dangerously misguided premise. Their premise is that America is poor and broke, and we can no longer afford the investments that make possible a strong middle class and a world-class economy.” He continued by addressing how this is based on the misallocation of wealth in America: “In a capitalist system, there come times when too few people have too much power and too much money, and too many people have too little of either. One of the primary functions of a free democratic government is to redress that imbalance.” He proposed the way to do this was through an increasing domestic investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, education, skill sets, empowering workers, strengthening families. He proposed the idea of government being broken was not only wrong, but that by returning to the wall street tax of 0.03% on every $100 dollars traded on wall street would result in over $350 Billion in revenue – more than enough to cover this bill. This revenue does not even account off-the-book derivatives, as well as removing tax cuts from companies which ship their jobs overseas. This plan is worth potentially more than the $350 Billion suggested. Senator Harkin continued with statistics that in 1980, 1 out of 2 Americans had a pension plan prepared from retirement. This being said, today only 1:5 Americans have a pension plan, and 40% of all Americans have no 401K or savings plan. This legislation would at least attempt to raise these numbers, as well as contribute to changing the minimum wage to a living wage. He also hopes to increase sick days for parents, increase spending in the teaching arenas (as our international education standards are plummeting), and change our “icy roads and Roosevelt schools” in to modern, state-of-the-art learning centers. The Senator ended by asking for suggestions to his plan, before parading off to continue construction of this bill.
If there are two bipartisan things people need to agree on, it’s the fact that education and infrastructure need to be revamped. Why are we NOT allocating our government funds away from undesirable international policy and gasoline subsidies? Why not spend our money on the future, and invest in tomorrow? Why not invest in renewable energy when the price is right? Why not invest in education and infrastructure? These are things America has taken pride in since our beginnings as a country, and because corporations and citizens want to pay less in taxes, our schools are beginning to cut their week to 4 days, simply to save money.1 This being said, is it really the problem of our school system? Education costs have been soaring, and with a greater education cost comes less benefit to each student. Specifically, maybe extension of the classroom workday and more homework is the answer. Perhaps teachers are simply teaching for the test, and US Education should turn away from student tests, and instead turn toward a set curriculum of learning. Education needs reform – perhaps this bill can help.
Other areas such as changing the number of sick days and increasing the minimum wage seem strange. I believe that everyone should make a living wage, yes, in order for people to be able to survive without working 3 or 4 jobs. Yes, this figure is approximately $13.00/hour2 (an estimate of the American living wage), which would increase input necessary at a company by about 2:1, yet this allows for everyone to actually survive on the necessary fundamentals of life. As some would say this would cause for massive inflation, wouldn’t this simply cause for better allocation of jobs? It would force trickle down economics to actually work, as this would dictate that not all funds would center on 1% of the population which owns 60% of industry. This would certainly solve the problems for poorer Americans.
Yet this won’t aide in restoring the middle class. The problem Senator Harkin also spoke about was to have good paying jobs for advanced degree candidates. As a student, I can certainly see this – my education, cost of food, cost of rent, cost of books, cost of transportation, cost of utilities all sum up to an astronomical fee, and I’m apparently in the 8.9% who has a master’s education (I’m in the 91%???). My education doesn’t always bring in money, and yet I am an educated person. That’s a huge problem – when a degree is highly in demand (such as lawyers, public health, medicine, biochemists, etc.), we should not see them out on the street. In 2011, even in the largest growing fields, nearly no jobs were available to recent college graduates. Industry is not trickling down, even for the highest peak of education. If one were to sit and analyze this from a free market perspective, one would assume, therefore that we have too many lawyers, doctors, or biochemists to fill the jobs. This simply isn’t the case though, as these degrees are so demanded. The amount of majors in demand aren’t getting employed, because industry is desiring a higher educational level for the same paying job. Herein lies the problem – the middle class is shrinking because industry is expecting more for less.
American is demanding the best: more PhDs work as lab coordinators. PhDs to serve as lab technicians. Lawyers to serve as clerical assistants. Doctors to do social work. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, these professions could do what they wanted to do: research, perform law, perform medicine, whatever. Now, the growing number of college graduates means that it’s a scramble for entry level positions, let alone middle grade positions. The middle class is shrinking because a BA is becoming a high school diploma. The Masters is the new college degree, the PhD is like a Masters, and Dual degrees (MD/PhD) is the new PhD. This is what needs to stop. Industry needs to stop expecting more for less from the educated in America. Students who have spent the last 8 years in school deserve to have a job that pays them enough to offset the costs and toils of learning. A person with a PhD in Chemistry certainly has the qualifications to be an adjunct professor. Someone with an MD certainly should be able to work as a consultant for Industry. Someone with a BS in Chemistry certainly should be allotted a position of a lab technician. These things make sense: we work for what we achieve in America. If we work for our degree, we should be able to find work in our field. In conjunction, if these are not the best degrees for career outlook in America, independent agencies need to stop marketing them as such. The misguided educational system in American has created this multilayer problem of education, social level, and cost. We need to deflate these educational costs so the next generation can succeed in inventing a new tomorrow, or otherwise, we’ll become another Lost Generation.
2- Anker, R. (2006). Living wages around the world: A new methodology and internationally comparable estimates.International Labour Review, 145(4), 308-338.