As the year 2021 advances food pantries across the nation are overwhelmed by people who, forced into unemployment by the pandemic, have run out of money to buy even the most fundamental life necessities. Many are experiencing poverty’s impersonal ravages for the first time. The Biden Administration has sent out a second round of economic impact checks under the Covid-related Tax Relief Act of 2020, and more rounds are virtually certain. Way back in 1936 massive numbers of voters left the Republican Party because the Democrats’ New Deal offered them the only hope in sight for rising out of the Great depression’s terrible destitution. Putting these truths together, several things may be reasonably concluded. Let’s consider some of them.
How very good that personal “income” is at long last back in our national spotlight. For Americans subsisting below the poverty line every month is a new juggling contest to pay the rent, buy groceries and medicine, keep the utilities on, the car running and the kids fed. The foremost economic problem in the United States today is not prices, it’s income. In an unregulated free market economy it is impossible to ever force prices down enough to accommodate the lowest incomes. However it is altogether possible to bring all low incomes up to parity with the basic cost of living across the U.S. It becomes the new “minimum wage”—the old $7.25 minimum wage, which merely guarantees endless poverty, gets abolished and good riddance. The Covid-relief checks are proof of concept.
The “living wage” is an idea that fits harmoniously with the American dream. It does not imply that everyone will magically be made rich much less financially equal, but it does assure that every American can be guaranteed a personal income not less than sufficient to buy the eight basic needs that are essential to live “in adequacy”—meaning, at least, above the poverty line. In wealthy modern America no citizen should be unable to buy these basics:
1) food adequate to ensure healthful nutrition;
2) clothing adequate for all seasons;
3) shelter, including utilities, of adequate size and quality for individuals and families as applicable;
4) insurance covering preventive dental, hearing, vision and mental health care, medical treatment for physical and mental disorders including rehabilitative therapies, and hospice care;
5) dependable transportation according to need;
6) insurance (such as automotive liability) that is required to be purchased by federal, state or local law;
7) adequate retirement income during the senior years.
Our nation’s historic promise cannot be experienced if any one of these is missing. Food, clothing and shelter (1, 2, 3) are the basic essentials for simply staying alive—without them we certainly die from starvation and exposure. Health (4) is prerequisite to everything else because degraded health means our bodies cannot properly function and we will probably die prematurely. Yet many low income citizens cannot afford the prices charged by doctors and hospitals—or the price of health insurance that would pay their bills—and so many do, in consequence, suffer for years and die prematurely.
(5) Citizens who don’t own or can’t afford a vehicle are inevitably dependent on public transportation systems such as buses and taxis if they need to go anywhere beyond reasonable walking distance. If we want to drive a vehicle, or have no other choice, laws compel us to buy liability insurance (6)—an unavoidable legal claim against income that imposes disproportionate hardship on Americans earning low wages, notwithstanding that it also serves the greater public good. Our Social Security System was created to guarantee adequate retirement income (7) because dire impoverishment afflicted so many Americans when they grew too old to continue working. But some of the people didn’t receive this blessing, because southern politicians required that farm and domestic workers be excluded—because so many such workers were black. And the genteel Southern Way Of Life—the whites-only life—was preserved a while longer.
These life needs are today so widely taken for granted as must-have claims on income that they qualify as “economic rights.” As we the people of the United States of America proceed into the Twenty-first Century, we have well established traditions of birth rights, voting rights, civil rights, women’s rights, human rights, and a Constitutional Bill of Rights which are the wellspring for all iterations of the concept of “rights” as an entitlement of American citizenship.
We are way past due to extend the concept to essential income in the form of economic rights. A living wage, mandated in law, is the income necessary to buy the economic rights. Conceptually, as a basic right for all, it is drastically far afield from welfare doles.
We simply need a better way than government continuing to hand out waves of money—rather haphazardly at that—to save American citizens from starvation here in the year 2021. Mygod, one thinks, after considering the reality of it. And there is a far better way.
8) ECONOMIC RIGHT: During young adulthood, financial support equal to the cost of education or equal value of cash savings. Just as retirees need guaranteed economic adequacy, so do young adults faced with getting a meaningful start in in life’s journey. Instead of so many young people descending into a drain on their parents or the economy or both, vast numbers will contribute productively, meaningfully, to betterment of our economy. A properly planned economy must contain provision for a reserved bolus of money sufficient to enable a young person to either 1) pay the cost of higher education or 2) to fund a startup business entrepreneurship. Brief details in the four paragraphs below are further elaborated in the book Populist Corrections at the author’s blog site (fixypopulist.com).
National Service To America Corps (NSTAC)
Higher education’s meaning is self evident, but that “equal value” part is a major beneficial innovation in the New Ideal America we can invent. It needs some explaining.
With much-increased new high-end income tax brackets, and nationwide outlawing of sales taxes which so discriminate against the poor (see Populist Corrections chapter on tax reform), the enormous new tax revenues from unearned wealth, capital holdings and rich inheritances will flow into a Young Adult Opportunity Trust Fund to help fund, at birth, a Life Opportunity Voucher (LOV) for every child born in The United States of America. Upon high school graduation or age 18, whichever comes later, every young American will be automatically enrolled for three years in the National Service To America Corps (NSTAC), an updated version of the Civilian Conservation Corps redesigned to serve modern America. Military enlistment will alternatively meet this universal obligation, and NSTAC will arrange appropriate duties for disabled and handicapped enrollees.
After completing NSTAC service (or military enlistment) the young person’s LOV may be redeemed, at any time up to age 30, to pay for a four-year undergraduate education, or to help finance an Entrepreneurship business startup, or to purchase a home (innovative other uses may be taken before a review board for decision). All (meaning ALL) higher education institutions will eat the cost of any tuition and fees that may happen to exceed the cash value of the LOV guaranteed to every young adult American. For persons who complete a military career of at least twenty years, the LOV redemption amount upon retirement from the Armed Forces shall be doubled and paid out without qualification.
Via the LOV and NSTAC, our Congress will proactively extend to young Americans, who are the nation’s future, the opportunity ever intended by the Constitution’s mandate to promote the general welfare, popularly known as the American Dream, at that time in life when they are most likely to be financially stressed—poor—thereby sensibly ensuring to them in their vigorous youth a reasonable measure of that caring and economic security our society properly bestows on retirees at the other end of life—while building public understanding that the nation is Us, that We The People, collectively and each of us individually, are responsible for the wellbeing of our nation and all of our fellow Americans.
William D. Coffey