Oh, Is the Recession Over?

The kid over at Tennessee Talking Points is pissed that the grown-ups aren’t doing more to smooth his/her way in the world. Yes, I did laugh briefly and say to myself “Welcome to what Generation X has been living with. Smoke some pot. Watch Clerks, and relax. Here’s your flannel shirt.”

But then, I thought, well, I owe it to a fellow liberal to point out the shortcomings in the strategy of being very angry at the government for not doing what is so super obvious to you. There’s only one point, but I’m about to make it repeatedly.

  • “We don’t need all the old hardware—the outdated bombers, airplanes and weapons that politicians support just to keep jobs in their district.” Okay, then what will the people who work at those defense jobs do for employment?
  • “To be sure, they need to pay their fair share, but so do the 46% of Americans who pay no federal income tax at all.” Okay, then, what jobs do you have for these people that would give them enough of an income to qualify for federal income tax?
  • “We have to raise the age to account for longer life expectancy, we have to means test it for benefits and we have to raise the taxable income cap. ” Okay, what jobs will these old people do? And if they’re still doing the job you’d like to be promoted into someday, what will you do in the meantime?

Here’s a true fact. If Congress honestly knew how to fix our budget problems, they would. I don’t say this as some Pollyanna who believes in the general goodness of people. I do not. But I do believe that people are inherently self-interested and politicians moreso. And anyone, regardless of party, who could turn our budgetary issues around without completely stalling out our fragile economy would be set for years. All this talk about primarying. Bullshit. Not if they did it and it worked. If there were a way to do it, it would be done.

But no one wants to go back to their districts and say “I voted to cut spending to the only employer in our area.” No one wants to go back to their districts and say “Your young people are moving away because, since you’re never going to retire, there’s no room for them to advance here.” No one wants to say “We had to close our hospital because we can’t afford to serve everyone who can’t afford healthcare.” And not just because those are unpopular political positions, but because it fucking sucks to see your friends and neighbors rolled over by forces larger than them.

The crux of the matter is this: It is a long American tradition to not know what the fuck to do to solve our problems, to push off onto generations better able to see solutions the implementation of those solutions, to need the impetus of pissed off youngsters in order to reform. It is quintessentially American to hope that the people who come after us will have a clarity that we lack and see fixes we are blind to.

That, my friend, is your responsibility as an American. Not to sit around and complain that you are being handed a broken country–we all were–but to step up and take your turn making repairs the people after you can build on.

You’re not being cheated because we’re not handing you a perfectly functioning country. You’re being shown the truth.

Welcome. Now get to work.

33 thoughts on “Oh, Is the Recession Over?

  1. All these people who complain about the huge number of Americans who pay no federal income tax — I don’t think they get it that the number of non-federal-income-tax-payers is so huge precisely because of the recession. In 2008 it was 36% who didn’t pay federal income tax (and in 2000 it was 25%), but the economy has tanked and put a lot of people out of work or into lower-paying and/or part-time work. So what the complainers are moaning about is helping out the people who used to have jobs and don’t any more. And who still pay state taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and FICA payments from their part-time, underpaid jobs. We could change the tax code so that only, say, 25% of folks paid no federal income taxes at all. But unless that’s going to result in token yearly payments of $25 or so for the folks who are underemployed or out of work, it’s going to put a ridiculous burden on them. And, given their incomes, it’s not going to raise a lot of money for the gov’t. It will just make the complainers feel better. Way to show your humanity and spirit of community, complainers.

    As for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, my impression is that that’s intended to be the first step towards ending it. If SS and Medicare are what we all pay into and all take out of, we all support them. But if some people start not taking out because they’re too rich, then they’ll want to stop putting in — you know, the same way that people who send their kids to private schools tend to want to stop paying taxes for good public schools. Raising the age of eligibility, however, is a good idea. Life expectancies have indeed changed, and there’s no reason for eligibility for old-age programs not to change along with them.

    What distresses me is that the person making these complaints and suggestions is presenting them as some sort of centrist consensus that ought to be reached, when they are actually fairly out-there right-wing talking points. I can’t believe that someone who claims to be a progressive would make them.

  2. I still think that, if people retire later, young people need to be prepared to sit longer in lower paying jobs. This would be less of a problem if there were more jobs, obviously. But something I imagine that kids who expect the country to be problem-free when they inherit it might want to consider.

  3. I am for means-testing of SS and Medicare, but understand the “slippery slope” threat that nm mentions, I just happen to not believe it.

    Moreover, SS taxes are capped at far too low an income level. You do not pay SS taxes on all of your income, and none of our investment income. The cap is currently $106,800. This income cap could easily be doubled or tripled.

  4. Caught me leaving an anonymous post. I hadn’t saved my info in the comment area at the bottom.

    As for the retirement age – the sigma is rising and the mean is lowering on the average lifespan in the US. I am not exactly for changing it for SS, but many state and municipal plans are far too low, with people retiring in their 50’s and even 40’s.

  5. They’ve done something to the commenting system, I think. I notice old timers putting their email where their names should go, so something’s funky.

    It’s one of the reasons I don’t automatically delete anonymous comments–to easy for a known person to get swept up in the purges.

  6. Cracker, I’m a baby boomer. But there’s no way I expect to retire at 65; there’s no way I can afford to retire at 65; all my life my age cohort has seen 70 as our prospective retirement age. I think SS benefits should be recalibrated to take those expectations into account. If they need to be recalibrated once more for other generations, that’s fine. I would say the same of Medicaid, except that so many people my age are without insurance and just hanging on until 65, so for their sake we need to leave that age alone. (Yes, B, that means that younger people will have to wait longer to take over. They can take Prince Charles as their patron if they want to. I keep hearing that my generation messed things up but I don’t see jobs being created by anyone younger, either.)

    Agree with you on raising SS taxes, though.

    And I wonder why you don’t believe in a slippery slope for old-age protection programs. Seriously, I don’t think any organization or institution has ever been near a slippery slope that it didn’t fall down. I mean, when I was in public school no one would have believed in the attacks on public schools today….

  7. Okay, I think I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying, B., but I’d like to dig a little bit into your points. First, of all, point 1: this is a legitimate problem, in that we’ve constructed a parasitical, self-eating economy wherein a too-large portion of our manufacturing workforce makes a living churning out expensive things that we don’t need or shouldn’t need, and their salaries and wages are paid by the taxpayers, minus a huge cut for the profiteers and lobbyists who keep the gravy train rolling back onto itself. Conceptually, the solution is simple. Dismantle the imperial war machine that justifies this ghost manufacturing, then retool and reorganize the manufacturing base to build and maintain things that would really foster long-term economic stability, such as infrastructure (roads, water/sewers, dedicated passenger rail, sustainable/renewable power sources, etc.). We have the technical knowledge to make these things happen, and since it’s on our dime, anyway, why not?

    Point 2: I think it’s closely related to point 1, but only in a backhanded way. The federal income tax argument is an easily debunked sack of horseshit, for the very reason that you give, B. If we can’t even get people to stop arguing that the sun rises in the West, then we can forget about finding solutions to real and complex problems. I think that means we have to swallow our liberal/Judeo-Christian/whatever propensity for giving all arguments equal respect, when we know damn well that for fifty years there’s been a successful campaign to pollute our public discourse with outright dishonesty and tragically laughable fantasy. We have to be willing to call out bullshit and bullshitters more aggressively, instead of coddling them.

    I’ll leave point 3 to much smarter people, but I think if you take care of 1 and 2 then you’ll probably be in a better place to address 3.

  8. NM, I’m not complaining. I didn’t expect some meteoric rise anywhere. I was merely addressing the idea that if someone like TTP wants the country handed off to him in the shape he desires, he’s still not going to like the consequences, since people who have jobs will keep them. (And I am still concerned about what people who lost their jobs at 58 or 60 are supposed to do if Social Security doesn’t kick in until 67 or 70. Who’s hiring them?)

    Sam, my concern about your first point–though, of course, as a lefty, I agree–is that I think the scale upon which we make war machines is so large that even if we had a wish-list of all the great things we could be spending that money on instead, a lot of people would still lose their jobs and a lot of communities would still be devastated. Which is not to say that it wouldn’t be nice to do it, but I go back to the point that we’re still struggling to come out of a recession. Throwing more people out of work isn’t going to help that.

    Don’t get me wrong. It could be that this is as good a time to do it as any. But let’s be upfront about the costs.

  9. Sorry, B, I don’t think you’re complaining about all those nasty old people taking up perfectly good jobs. But a lot of people your age do complain about it, and then go on and complain about Social Security costs. The post you linked to clearly wants the older generation (which s/he defines as “boomers”) to get out of the way, then attacks us for using the Social Security payments which we’ve been contributing towards for our entire lives. Of course, if lots of the SS money we put in hadn’t been taken out of SS and used for programs that benefited the poster, SS would be financially robust. It still is, actually. And it will continue to be if we raise retirement age.

    And I’m willing to keep doing my part and to work and continue to contribute, but I’ll be damned if I listen to anonymous posters complaining that I need to retire because s/he wants my job but I shouldn’t expect to get the retirement fund to pay out because then s/he has used the money in the fund for something else and if I want my pension s/he will have to pay into it too, and not point out that they can’t have it both ways.

    This is not a contest or a zero-sum game. This is a community. I’ve paid a lot of taxes that have helped people I’ll never see, in ways I’ll never understand. I’m fine with that. I’ll continue to be fine with continuing to do that. I don’t see how that poster can make the specific complaints s/he does and still claim to be progressive, but whatever.

  10. Just based on doing my own taxes, they may have a small point about Federal income taxes. There is a heavy subsidy for having children. Part of that has been various stimulus and recovery act things, but my effective tax rate has been fairly small over the last several years. There are legitimate reasons for that to be the case, but I think an argument could be made.

  11. Why don’t I believe in the slippery slope argument for means-testing benefits? Because older citizens make the most prolific voter bloc. Of course, means-testing as a term can mean a whole lot, and the definition of it would be the largest indicator of future direction.

    Sam, I have to say that you completely oversimplfied issue #1. Aunt B. is right – a transition of such magnitude is going to be very painful.

    What is not getting caught in these arguments is the longevity of the product lifecycle of aerospace. To make a very complex issue as short as possible, it takes a long, long time to properly develop an aerospace product, and even longer to ramp up production to steady-state levels. Stuff designed in the 70’s and 80’s is still in use because stuff being designed today won’t be ready until 2030.

    I will be the first to say that our military is far, far, larger than it needs to be, but in order to cut the complex, we need to devise what our goals are and then decide what we need, not a dollar-figure target.

  12. Cracker, older citizens make up the largest voting block right now. Once boomers like me start to die off, though, that’s going to change. If you introduce means-testing now, you will have means-based opt-outs in a generation, and an end to SS in half a generation after that because it’s only for poor people any more. Don’t kid yourself. It happened to schools.

  13. Don’t agree still, and I am not kidding myself.

    What happened to schools? My children attend a school much better than what I had as a child. Do you mean the whole standardized testing craze?

  14. In most school systems in medium-to-large sized cities, white families started to pull their kids out of public schools as the schools became racially integrated. So the public school system became mostly populated by minorities (in many places, waaaaaay out of proportion to the percentage of non-white kids in the school-aged population) and by kids from families too poor to afford public schools. And all of a sudden, public schools went from being one of the glories of our nation to being awful places run by awful teachers in awful unions, where the kids don’t do well on standardized tests (which are a whole separate, learning-killing issue). I mean, whether or not this was true in any particular place, people started to “know” it was true. And to resent spending money on local public school systems, since their own kids didn’t participate in them.

    I understand that the Nashville school system used to be considered to be pretty good. Now I live and work surrounded by people who, in the sociology of my youth, would have sent their kids to the local schools without a blink, but who today know that “of course” “nobody” send their kids to public schools. Or who leave the city to go somewhere else where “the schools are better.”

  15. I think all Americans are going to have to accept that we live in an America that is more akin to the 1970s than the 1990s. Last year was my first year of married life. My wife was a full-time student and mother so she didn’t work. The state of Tennessee pays me a paltry sum so I went to work waiting tables at The Orangery, a fine dining eatery in Knoxville. I drove seventy miles round trip two days a week, sometimes three, to work a second job. Someone on un-employment could have taken that job assuming they had the skills. It pays $200 a night most nights in cash. If I lost my job right now I would move to North Dakota and take an oil industry job driving a truck or doing whatever I had to to feed my family. I’m no conservative and I great compassion for the many un-employed who certainly want to work. I really am not judging. But I do think we are still hoping for a quick return to the Nineties. In the Seventies, millions of people migrated around the country to find work, some times only for a short period of time. B said something I agree with: young folks are going to have to take a lower paying job for longer before moving up to better paying ones. We are in a down economic cycle that could well last decades. If I were young and single, I would be willing to go nearly anywhere to better myself.

  16. As a community-college professor, I can tell you that there are many problems with our schools. First, how about the decision to take discipline and respect out of our schools? I teach classrooms full of students who have barely ever been told no or that they aren’t perfect at home and in school. We spend all of our time on students with horrible attitudes, who can barely read, and have never written an essay. They seem to be largely un-employable. Most have an inflated sense of their own worth without ever earning it. I spend most of time on the bad students and can’t teach the good ones. And now, TBR colleges will be judged on graduation rates, not the quality of graduates. Community colleges have become the next high school. I can’t imagine what it is like to manage these kids in a work situation. We are not preparing them for the reality of the world they will live in as adults. So much has been handed to them and they have a sense of themselves as being fetted royalty who deserve success without earning it.

    Return respect, right attitude, work ethic, and a desire to be something to our young folks soon or our economic and social problems will magnify. Sorry for the rant after a long absence B.

  17. I have to agree with not changing the ages for Medicare/Medicaid. Honestly, life expectancy is *not* 90 or even 75 for many people (white females are the only ones to hit 80), and I think we’d just end up with a terrible situation for people in the gap. Looking at the situation my own parents are in right now, and the situations of parents of some other people my age, I think we’re already going to have more and more 60ish people with no access to health coverage – raising the age would just make that even worse.

  18. Also, I don’t have a kid in school nor have I been in school for a long time, but I always wonder about the supposed lack of discipline. In my grade school experience, blind obedience was required in even the most mundane things, and all it taught me was a distrust of authority.

  19. Glad to have you back, Casey. I figured married life was keeping you busy (and happy, I hope). I have so many questions about your comment. I had no idea that the graduation thing applied to community colleges, too. Is it just me, or is that completely stupid? I mean, isn’t it a success when a high school kid can get a couple of classes out of the way over the summer with y’all before going on to a 4-year school? Or if you get a nurse up to speed on her Spanish skills? The idea that a community college would graduate everyone who enrolls or that it would be some measure of success is frighteningly asinine.

    I think a kind of shitty thing has happened in that we’ve made it clear to kids that they have to go to college if they want a good job without also being upfront that not everyone is cut out for college immediately.

    I mean, I love my brothers and I hope they find time to go back to school, but I can say, fairly, that they had no business going right out of high school because they were only doing it because my parents expected it, not because they knew they needed to.

    I think they’d be much better off going now.

    I don’t think ensuring that a college education is within the reach of everyone (a stance I firmly believe in and one I am very afraid is slipping away from poor people) is the same thing as everyone having to go to college right out of high school (which seems to be where we’ve ended up).

    And I think you’re spot on in saying that this is more like the 70s–just long term economic doldrums.

    I know that we, as a family, moved around a lot and were raised with an expectation that people moved for work. But I also know that we lived in a buttload of small towns where the vast majority of people thought they should never, ever have to leave those towns. For any reason. I knew a few older people who’d never been outside the county and were proud of it.

    And I do wonder if there are a lot of young people who are hampered by being raised in that mindset–that they should get to live in the small town they were born and raised in. So they’re just waiting for someone up there to fix things.

    Like they don’t really get, when people call this the Great Recession, it’s not just a joke. It’s an economic crisis along the lines of (though not as bad as) the Great Depression and some folks are going to have to make the same kinds of drastic life changes folks made back then. Or in the 40s. Or in the 70s.

    I’m going off on a tangent, but I think a lot of people in this state (and in the country) kind of get that our elected officials are mostly doofuses. They’re not brighter or better able to see the solutions to these things than we are. But somehow there’s still a disconnect. Like this poor TTP kid, who is angry that the Super Committee couldn’t do what they set out to do, but somehow still wants them to fix things so that he doesn’t have to feel their impact. But who among them is smart enough to do that?

    It’s like, we know they’re idiots, but we still act like they’re geniuses holding out on us.

  20. For the record, so-called “boomers” (a word I detest, utterly, especially when used with a sneer or dripping with nostalgia ) are currently ages 47-66. They (we) are hardly the main population receiving Social Security payments in 2011, and are for the most part still paying in, even if having been permanently disappeared from the salaried workforce for costing what experienced people do at the age of 40 or 50. The answer to the “but where do the old folks work?” is already in front of us: By their wits, in lower paid jobs, self-made jobs, catch as catch can. And those late 50s-early 60s types being requested to die quickly please pretty much expect to go on working like that for decades to come. Oh, and as Xers tend to say: Bite me.

  21. Just chiming in here to say that when y’all say this is more like the 70s than the 90s I think you might mean the later 90s. Because there was a recession when I married in 1991 and husband and I did four years of working 3 jobs apiece (at once) and doing odd jobs wherever we could. I think that’s part of my frustration with some of the twentysomethings I’ve heard speak about OWS and what they want. I was 28 before I had one 40-hr/week job with benefits that paid all my bills. Prior to that I worked 40 hours at a travel agency, 10 hours in an office doing filing and random other hours typing papers for grad students at $2 a page. Husband worked PRN at four different psych wards, 30 hrs a week as an orderly in a care center for severely braindamaged adults. He worked a spell for Lockheed making the princely sum (back then it was) of $7/hr digitizing zip codes on the mail for the USPS.

    These were all entry level jobs. But you do what you have to do to survive. Those early 90s were not the gravy train we started getting around 1995/96.

    As for means-testing seniors: BULLSHIT. Those folks paid in. And this judgyjudgerson business about them having enough money is just rude.

  22. “And now, TBR colleges will be judged on graduation rates, not the quality of graduates.”

    Which is just as arbitrary as evaluating teachers based on failure rates. If there is a willingness to compromise standards, a school system or college can pass or graduate anyone. The real question is whether the student has acquired the skills to be a life-long learner. But that isn’t what the current reformers care about. They want to facilitate the end of public institutions by rigging the game and then using the failure to meet bogus standards as support for privatizing public institutions.

    It’s always about the money.

  23. Rachel,

    To be clear, I don’t want to over discipline kids. To terrorize or abuse them. But all of my fellow professors can see a serious decline in attitude, work ethic, and just the simple lack of respect shown us by many students now. Many of our students are great. They work and attend school and put much effort into their studies. But over half of them, especially the boys, expect good grades for just showing up. The expect to be allowed to talk during lecture or discussion as loudly as they want. To text message and show up to class whent they feel like it. Students need not be abused to be given a basic level of respect and to know their place in life. This current batch thinks they rule the world before they have even set out to conquer it. And few of them have the actual skills they need to accomplish much in life. We have made life far too easy on them.

  24. B,

    Community colleges in the TBR are judged a bit differently than four-year institutions. Graduation rates are the standard for us as well, but with qualifiers. We recieve partial credit for every student who achieves certain benchmarks such as completing 12, 24, 36 hours, etc. We also aren’t judged by dual-credit high school students, or drop-in students who take one class in the summer while they are home for the break. I’m sceptical long term of judging our success by graduation rates as the obvious temptation is to become a diploma mill. Roane State, I believe, under the current administration would never do that as our president is honest and expects high standards of RSCC students, staff, and faculty. But the implication is that merely graduating is the goal, regardless of ability to perform in the job force.

  25. I have to say that you completely oversimplfied issue #1. Aunt B. is right – a transition of such magnitude is going to be very painful.

    I don’t think you read me correctly, Cracker. I said that the concept is simple. The details, of course, are monumental, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue otherwise. But I stand by my point, which is that we’re pouring huge amounts of tax revenue into employing people in unsustainable and destructive industry. The basic solution, again, is to redeploy all that capital and personnel into more sustainable and constructive manufacturing. I agree that there would be some pain in the short term, but the longer we cling to the unsustainable model, the greater (and longer) the long term pain.

    Also, how we manage that short-term pain is directly related to how willing and able we are (politically) to make the transition. This gets into something I think I was hinting at in point 2, which is that we’re so deeply mired in stupid that we can’t even begin to entertain comprehensive solutions.

  26. “But over half of them, especially the boys, expect good grades for just showing up. The expect to be allowed to talk during lecture or discussion as loudly as they want. To text message and show up to class whent they feel like it. ”

    And that is a function of parents being considered the “clients” of the school system. Far too many parents encourage that sense of entitlement in their children at home. It then carries over into the schools, where teachers and administrators have very little opportunity or inclination to counter the way the children are being raised, especially since parents are much more likely to blame the teacher than to hold their own children accountable. Sure, the teacher can try to run a tight ship, but the administration is generally going to placate the complaining parent, rather than back the teacher, because the parent is considered the “client”. The teacher is just an employee. I see this scenario play out in the work I do on a constant basis.

  27. I’m gonna agree with Casey about how students at CCs can be, based on my own experience teaching at CCs. (One of which was my favorite place to teach ever.) A lot of students have genuine discipline problems, a lot of them don’t understand about turning in work, or being on time, or being responsible. Another lot of them don’t have the skills you would have expected they’d pick up by the time they finished high school. But those are the reasons they’re at the community college, after all, and not in a 4-year school or out working hard. A good CC will either get them into classes that teach them the discipline and skills they need in their first year, and then get them into the content classes, or will allow the teachers to fail them out. The students who don’t fall into those groups, btw, are generally a joy to teach.

    My experience is from 10-15 years ago, so I can’t speak to how things are now, but my impression is that CCs have pretty much always been thus. The manners may be worse now. But I don’t think there was a time when there weren’t some kids finishing high school with no information, no study skills, and the rest of it.

  28. Well said NM. Our job is to teach up kids who aren’t ready for the big show. Some that includes simply treating others with respect and following through with their resonsibilities. My fear is that we, too, will become the next high school and will not be allowed to fix these issues.

    Coble, I fully agree about the Nineties. I dropped out of college in 1990 in the middle of that recession. My mother was sick and I had to go to work to help support her. I lived in Atlanta and for four months I worked three part time jobs: security guard, door to door newspaper sales, and waiter. I slept around two hours a day from Thursday to Sunday morning. Then I found one good job. It was surely a difficult time.

  29. To be sure, they need to pay their fair share, but so do the 46% of Americans who pay no federal income tax at all.”

    This point has probably already been made, but there is a reason 46% of Americans don’t pay income tax. It was made last year by Keith Hennessey, who is a conservative. A BIG conservative. Like, a Hoover Institution conservative, George W. Bush economic appointee, worked for Trent Lott, etc. He writes:

    “The reason so many Americans don’t owe income taxes is because we have two big tax credits in the code: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the child tax credit. I hope the above explanation shows the power of a tax credit: one dollar of tax credit wipes out one dollar of tax liability. So if you provide a big tax credit to someone who owes only a small amount of income taxes, you’re probably going to move them into the non-payer category.

    “The EITC benefits low-wage earners. Legislative support often splits roughly along party lines, with most Democrats wanting a bigger EITC, and many Republicans wanting a smaller (or, at least, no bigger) EITC. Republicans like to complain about the EITC on a day like today.

    “But most of the increase since the mid-1990s in the number of people who owe no income taxes is the result of the child tax credit. This policy was created by Congressional Republicans and expanded with Republicans in the lead.”

    Just wanted to point that out because I’m soooo sick of hearing that old canard. If Republicans don’t like it they have only themselves to blame.

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