Politics, change and the economy too

23 Jul

This is a long post, with a lot of ideas.  What I hope is to make people think about what we need, as a nation, as well as what we need on the Gulf Coast, the State of Mississippi, etc.  We elected President Obama with his simple slogan of “Change,” but did we get change or just a new flavor of the same old BS?  What programs do you think will provide us with real “bail out” power from the current economic situation?  Can we avoid the same kinds of turmoil that has plagued countries such as Egypt and Greece?

Think.  Make a comment.  Eventually, some of these ideas will get packaged up and sent off to my representatives to Congress.  Apathy today is our worst enemy, and it is passed the time when we all need to get in touch with Washington DC…they have obviously lost touch with us!

I’m making that effort to get more involved, by telling my representatives what I want and sending them ideas.  They may ignore them…and they may not, but I’ll never know if I never speak up.  The same goes for each and every one of you.

What do you think we need to happen?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look around and say that things have got to change in the United States and fast.  Even if you are educated, willing to work, have an agreeable personality, and are willing to relocate…jobs are virtually impossible to find.

We left New Orleans in 2010, stuck in a cycle of unemployment and rising cost of living.  It was impossible to continue.  We relocated to coastal Mississippi, which may seem like jumping from the frying pan to the fire, as there were few jobs there either.  The differences were simple–we had friends & family willing to help us as we tried to get a new start, and the lower cost of living meant that we might succeed.

In the meantime, job interviews have been scarce.  Inflation has eaten away at our budget too.  Help also implies a temporary status, and cannot continue indefinitely or you wind up being someone’s dependent.  We like being independent and paying our own way.

How much longer before our money runs out?  Six months?  A year?  Two years?  Will we survive until there is a job, even if it is a menial job with below poverty level income?  It’s tough as an older worker with a job history to watch youngsters still in school or fresh out of school getting the jobs at the fast food restaurants that you also applied for…and didn’t even get an interview for.  It is very hard to stay motivated to apply for one job after another, when only one application in a hundred results in an interview, and none of those interviews in the last three years have resulted in anything more than temporary employment of a few days or weeks.

We’re looking at the end of the long term unemployment benefits that many people qualified for coming to an end in less than six months from now.  At the same time, Food Stamp recipients have climbed 40%, there is talk of cutting back on the program, food prices continue to climb in the grocery store, and nothing from Washington results in anyone’s confidence that they have figured out a way out of this Depression.

It IS a Depression.  It’s gone from the Great Recession to an actual full blown depression, whether the economists want to admit it or it meets any technical definition of that dubious economic state.  It’s worldwide, it’s without an end in sight, and the numbers the government is reporting have no grasp of the real issue.

Out of the unemployed people I know, only about one in five is receiving an unemployment check, for whatever reason.  If that is true nationwide, we’re looking at unemployment numbers five times higher than those being reported by the Feds, even if their numbers are unaltered and represented correctly.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the current unemployment levels at 9.2%.  If the real figures differ as dramatically as my personally observed percentages do, we could actually have unemployment as high as 46%.  Even that figure does not count those who have opted to remove themselves from the job market due to early retirement, etc. either, which would undoubtedly add even more people to the actual number of those without a job.

Our current president, Barrack Obama, with the assistance of his cabinet, doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a viable plan for real economic recovery.  The Great Bail Out didn’t seem to help Joe Average or Jane Hardworker one iota.  Families are still losing their homes and jobs, along with their health care and retirement.  The numbers of homeless rise regularly and are nearly impossible to accurately report because of the inherent nature of that state.  People are not going to admit to being homeless for fear of losing their children, their pets, their pride, and their hope.

So what kinds of things WOULD work to help our economy recover, buy the time we need for an actual recovery, and initiate the kind of economic growth that we need to occur in this nation?  We don’t have an industrial base anymore–most of those jobs went overseas in search of fewer regulations and cheaper labor.

Here on the Gulf Coast, we have the shipyards, primarily building giant ships for the Navy and some industrial sized tankers, oil rigs, etc. for the oil industry.  The problem there is…how many war ships do we need?  Should we, as a nation, invest more in shipbuilding?  Is it going to produce something with a market?  Can we do it better, faster, cheaper than foreign shipyards?

We also have the tourist industry and the casinos.  Should we invest more in this?  Who would our market be?  Is it going to produce jobs that are going to exist a decade from now?  Is it going to stimulate economic growth over the long term, no matter what Mother Nature and the oil industry delivers to the coastal region?

Mississippi has agriculture too.  Agriculture isn’t exactly a big job producer, but it is imperative that we have an adequate food supply in the country.  Should we be investing more here?  Which types of agriculture should we invest in?

Mississippi also is blessed with a myriad of natural resources like timber, wildlife, lakes, rivers, creeks, bayous, bays, marshes, and coastal waterways.  These too can be a source of revenue when properly managed, but what kind of investment would maximize these in terms of jobs and economic recovery?  Can these be managed in a way to ensure that it is sustainable in the long term?  These assets are also connected to a system of county, state, and federal parks and forests, and their facilities.  How can these provide both jobs and an economic asset for the state as a whole?  What opportunities lay there?

There is also the oil industry, traditionally a source of high paying jobs with fantastic benefits.  States complain that they receive little tax benefit for offshore rigs in their region, yet when the unthinkable happens, as in the case of the BP Oil Spill, many states suffer both in terms of their environment, industry, recreation, and financially.  Can more investment in the oil industry help with the economic recovery of the regions that it has often both blessed and cursed?

We can look to history for inspiration and advice.  We had an excellent example in the New Deal programs of the Great Depression.  What worked best and provided the most long term solutions and benefits to the nation as a whole?

With a historical perspective, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) probably had the biggest impact on the economy besides Social Security.  Both of these programs, with updates to suit the current era, could be potentially viable solutions to the long term unemployment of today.

The CCC was a popular program, specifically geared for young single men from 18-25 years of age.  They received $30 per month in pay, and $22-25 of their pay was sent home to their parents.  They also received food, clothing, housing, and medical care.  Participants had to apply and then pass a physical exam ensuring that they were physically capable of performing the manual labor the camps were designed to do.  Each participant had to complete one term of six months, however up to four terms could be completed if employment was still unlikely in their home area.

Today, that program would have to include both young men and women from 18-25 years of age, and instead of sending their pay home to their parents, a substantial portion would need to be held in a “future fund” for their use after their term in the new CCC was completed.  This would provide the young worker with a nest egg to start their life in the private sector after their term in the new CCC was complete, providing for things such as a car, deposit on an apartment, etc. to ensure their full time private sector employment could be achieved.  Those who completed one or more terms in the new CCC would not be eligible for unemployment benefits, and would be encouraged to find a job prior to departing from the CCC.

This new CCC would not be geared towards training participants in new skills as much as training them in work ethics and providing them with a job history. It would also provide evening classes to allow participants to obtain a high school diploma to increase their chances of employment in the private sector after completing their term with the new CCC.  Manual labor skills would be taught as needed to accomplish the tasks given to their division of the new CCC, much like the tasks addressed by the original CCC.  Like the original, participants would live in barracks and work similar schedules.  Their pay would be the equivalent of a minimum wage job in the area, with 75% of their pay being withheld for their “future fund.”  Failure to complete their term would result in economic sanctions of losing 50% of their future fund, which would provide performance incentive.

For those who found the hard physical labor to be out of their range of abilities due to lack of strength or preferences, support staff positions would exist, performing tasks such as camp sanitation, meal preparation, record keeping, distribution, clerical positions, and other administrative tasks.  To qualify for these positions, some prior experience or training would have to exist.  Their pay would remain the same, and they would be supervised by the administrative team for that particular camp.

In addition to the jobs provided to the participants, support positions to those with both an education and work history would be created, as teachers, administrators, managers, and crew bosses would all find positions available with the new CCC in particular camps.  These jobs would be filled by applicants according to their job skills and education, with reasonable pay schedules that match area jobs, as well as typical benefits such as medical, dental, etc.

The CCC camps would be either in a barracks type situation, utilizing old military bases and camps, or temporary in nature and using tents in the camp, not unlike a temporary military camp.  All camps would provide the same basic services, although permanent camps may have more extensive “recreational” facilities, such as libraries, game rooms, etc.

The new WPA would focus on providing jobs in a variety of areas, allowing their participants to remain with their families.  These jobs would hire more skilled participants, often older workers.  Like the original WPA jobs, it would address community and regional needs, ranging from school construction to natural resource management.  Only one member of a household would be eligible for participation, and the wages would be consistent with local wages for similar positions, along with benefits such as medical and dental insurance.  Participants could leave the program at any time, as long as they had obtained other employment, and unemployment benefits would not be available to participants for a period of six to twelve months after leaving the program. After completion of a project, if no further projects were requiring that participant’s skills in the immediate area, participants would be offered a position in another project outside of their area or be certified as eligible for unemployment benefits again, if all other requirements for unemployment are met.

In addition to the positions provided by participating in the WPA, there would be additional administrative and supervisory positions within the WPA that were of a permanent/long term nature for the duration of the program.  These positions would include supervisors and administrative employees.  Support employees such as secretaries, clerks, etc. would be participants.

The expenses of these programs could be held within check by allocating positions to various camps (CCC) and projects (WPA).  Funding would originate with the federal government, and the pay off in the local communities would be felt within seven months of the initiation, as the first term of the CCC participants were finished with their terms.  Initial benefits to the communities would be noticed sooner with the arrival of a WPA project in their immediate area, as the participants use their health and dental care policies, pay bills, and make purchases in the community.

Imagine a CCC project along the Gulf Coast, even a relatively “small” one as removal of trash from the coastal estuaries, destruction of derelict Katrina-damaged homes, and completion of various public parks  that have been slowly repaired post Katrina.  Even 100 young men and women, under the supervision of experienced supervisors and managers, combing the rivers, beaches, marshes, etc. for the debris, tearing down the many derelict houses in the area, and removal of the debris over a period of a year would take 100 young men and women off of the streets and put them in positions where they learned about having a job and preparing for responsible adulthood.

WPA projects could include things like bicycle paths, public community education courses in art and creative writing, wetland rehabilitation, establishment of parks and construction of facilities along the coastal rivers and beaches, revitalizing our school systems with extra teachers in areas such as art, literature, industrial skills, etc.  For the city of Pascagoula, adding 100 jobs may not sound like much compared to the number employed in the shipyards, but that 100 diversified jobs can be a beginning to private industry and endeavor.  Public assets such as bicycle paths, parks, education, adult community education, and other community facilities increase an area’s attractiveness to both employers and employees.

In addition, one advantage held by European industrialized nations compared to America is the existence of a viable passenger train system.  In today’s situation of rising energy costs and increasing need for enviromentally sensible solutions to transportation issues, the establishment of a national passenger train system of a usable nature is increasingly obvious in the nation’s need.

Currently, there are NO stations available between any Mississippi to Alabama, and even the Florida Panhandle.  Even choosing an option with the current provider, Amtrak, to travel between Albuquerque and Austin, the trip takes three days ONE WAY and costs $415 one way compared to taking a flight between the two cities, which takes about four hours, and costs less than $600 round trip.  Obviously, American train travel is both expensive and inconvenient, unlike other industrialized nations’ offerings that focus on convenience, efficiency, and reasonable rates.  This would be an ideal project to focus WPA efforts on, and would result in increased ability for Americans to travel for both leisure and work, nationwide.  It doesn’t need to be “high speed” so much as made into an efficient method of transportation–three days for covering the number of miles that can be reasonably achieved via the highways in a single day is ridiculous.  The complete lack of transportation on the Gulf Coast, with the sole stations being located in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, New Orleans and Galveston.  I did not find ANY Amtrak stations in Mississippi, although surrounding states did have stations.

The existence of a viable and efficient passenger train system in the United States could also be utilized in emergencies, allowing efficient transportation of large numbers of citizens from an area that needs to be evacuated due to incoming hurricanes or other states of emergency.  It would also allow for efficient transportation of large quantities of emergency supplies and emergency personnel to the vicinity of an area effected by an emergency, as the railroad is going to provide more efficient transportation of these than highway convoys.  Today, the creation of this effective passenger rail system would be as much of a national asset as the interstate highway system was when it was created, in addition to creating numerous long term employment opportunities, as well as short term construction and development employment opportunities.  It is also a very worthy federal project because of its interstate nature and the fact that the only possible “competition” is an inefficient, expensive monopoly that fails to provide service in all fifty states.

Another project of note that would be a worthy federal project would be similar in nature to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 in its scope and importance to rural and small town areas.  At this time, rather than providing electricity, the purpose would be to provide high speed internet access nationwide through wireless, cable or dsl connections.  Internet access is increasingly important in today’s society, and by ensuring that all Americans have access, increased sales of computer related goods will occur, as well as general access to information, shopping, job searches, and other uses of the internet would be possible in every corner of America.  The monthly service itself would be provided by local companies, at reasonable rates, with grants and low interest loans to ensure that even the more remote communities can be connected to the internet.

All of these projects would be conducted with the goal of directly benefiting the citizens of the country, rather than benefiting specific corporations.  It would increase morale and confidence in the government’s management of a difficult economic situation with short term benefits, and the long term benefits would ensure that confidence in the government would continue.

This increase in confidence and morale is essential to providing the private sector impetus towards economic growth.  In the current situation, with a lack of faith in the government’s ability to manage the situation becoming more prevalent, compounded by the public unrest in Europe and Egypt, few are willing to embark on new and innovative business development that would spur economic growth, whether in the primary employment sector of small business or in the large corporation world.  Spending by the citizens is also minimal, due to the lack of confidence in the future, which further inhibits economic growth.

Because of this, it is imperative that any federal programs targeting the economy have a number of considerations put into them prior to public announcement.  These considerations include things like:

  • Some kind of historical precedence where the program was effective
  • Public figure (such as sports figures, television and movie industry figures, etc.) endorsement of the programs in a PR campaign to increase awareness and counteract rumors and incorrect information being circulated via news, television and internet sources.
  • Short term benefits being apparent to the average citizen
  • Long term benefits being easily anticipated by the average citizen
  • Efficient management of the programs to prevent scandals
  • Efficient hiring systems to maximize benefits to the greatest number of households.

In addition, certain other actions by the federal government to increase public confidence are necessary and should include things like:

  • Reduction in aid to foreign countries.
  • Plans for grants to encourage new and innovative industry at the small business level
  • Reduction in aid to the United Nations
  • Tax breaks offered to individuals making less than $24,000 annually, regardless of marital status.
  • Small house grants and tax credits for new sole residence housing under 800 square feet with two or more bedrooms and energy efficient construction.
  • Tax credits for sole residence purchases with less than $50,000 of financed debt for the home and land purchase.
  • Grants for purchase of “distressed property” renovation as a sole residence.
  • Establishment of “community markets” where local produced goods, agricultural products, used items, etc. could be sold by local residents.  (Such as farmer’s markets or flea markets) in all county seats and other towns with more than 10,000 population in the 2010 census.
  • Tax credits available to all persons who have a gym membership, exercise class, or some other form of regular exercise that can be documented as regularly attended and participated in, including use of a bicycle for regular transportation as part of a “Healthy America” program to reduce the frequency of obesity.
  • Establishment of community fitness programs for seniors with multiple offerings such as walking, yoga, tai chi, weight training, etc. with trained instructor supervision.
  • Establishment of a grant system to create “community gardens” where participants can rent spaces ranging from 10×10′ on up of prepared garden space to grow vegetables for their families as an incentive to local farmers to offer space.
  • Creation of grants to benefit local non-profits who provide services to people, promoting local charities for local needs and reducing the strain on public assistance agencies.
  • Small farm and family farm grants and tax credits to promote agricultural diversity.

This is a diverse list of potential areas of attention, but the problem that faces America today is not a single problem that can be cured with a single shot in the arm, so to speak.  It is a problem that has developed over decades, in many areas of the economy, and not only within the United States itself. It’s not the fault of a single political party or administration, but it is the concern of every American.  Each and every citizen needs to seriously examine their representatives to Washington and determine what changes really need to happen, especially as we approach an election year.

  • What changes need to occur now?
  • What has our current representatives accomplished in the past?
  • What have they put noticeable effort into causing change?
  • What are their chances of succeeding in causing change?
  • Have they done what they promised they would do?

When we look at new candidates, we need to ask questions too.

  • Can they do a  better job?
  • What are they promising to do?
  • Do the things that they stand for agree with what I want to happen in Washington?
  • Are they going to represent the majority of their constituents or are they going to do what they want to do?
  • Is this person capable of pushing for the things that their constituency wants?
  • Do you think they’ll follow through on their promises?

Sometimes, we may choose “better the devil we know” as our candidate of choice, sometimes, we believe that “any change is better than no change.”  What do you think?

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