Recently, Ebru TV gave me the opportunity to co-host their one-hour weekly politics and economics show. We discussed the Occupy Movement's Rolling Jubilee, Europe's Austerity, the U.S.'s Fiscal Cliff, and Obamacare. I hope to serve as co-host in the near future.
I introduce viewers to NJ's 1.1 million households who are A.L.I.C.E (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed). I discuss the causes and consequences of having one-third of your state's residents vulnerable to economic shocks and natural disasters.
Tomorrow your vote will
determine whether we continue a thirty-year trend toward an “à la carte society.”
What is an à
la carte society? It is a society where goods are priced, ordered, and purchased separately. Participation
in an à
la carte society is based on having the income, and for some items the wealth
to purchase what you want. Of course, as a Ph.D. carrying economist, I believe
that people should be able to purchase the type and amount of goods that they need
is that the goods which encompass the building blocks of life, such as access
to basic education, quality health, and child care and soon, elder care, and a safe
neighborhood are increasingly being priced and provided separately in the
decoupling of health insurance from one’s place of employment is well
documented. Increased residential segregation based on race, ethnicity and class has reduced access to quality
schools and safe neighborhoods. Republicans are proposing to remove the
guarantee of Medicare and replace it with a voucher, and privatize Social
Security. During the first Presidential debate, Governor Romney said that he
will reduce funding to PBS, a long-time leader in providing early childhood
education and truly “balanced and thoughtful” news.
low-income families and an increasing number of middle-income families don’t
have the income and wealth to privately purchase these basic needs.
When and how did the à la carte society emerge? It emerged in the 1980s when we allowed
policy makers to roll back worker protection laws, deregulate the economy, and
privatize public goods that historically had provided Americans with a basic set
These policy shifts coincided with two investment slowdowns (the 1980s and 2000-2007) in the
building blocks of life or what the United Nations call human priorities: public
investments in education and training, social safety nets, income maintenance
programs, community centers and parks.
The problem with placing more human priority
investments on the à la carte portion
of the menu is that we will not be equipping people with the tools to compete.
The two surges in income equality that resulted during these periods are well
The “Great Recession”, the weak jobs recovery, our
past choices to slow human priority investments, and the potential to trend
further toward an à la carte society
has sown the seeds for a new surge in income inequality.
Today, over 40 percent of unemployment spells remain
long-term. Over 8 million Americans work part-time, but want full-time
employment. Another 2 million have stopped searching but would take a job if
one was offered.
If these seeds of inequality germinate, it will mean
on November 6th, we chose to trend further toward an à la carte society. It will mean that we chose to structurally
disconnect the underemployed and long-term unemployed from the economy. It will
mean that in the future, we have to invest even more resources to reconnect
What’s an American to do? Vote. Why?
The policies being offered provide very different visions
for America. Both will generate economic growth, but have very different
approaches on how to create “broad-based prosperity.” The Republican’s vision
wants more of the building blocks to economic security to be à la carte, while the Democrat’s
vision wants them to be widely available.
We must stop kicking the can down the road on health
and retirement security. By delaying reform, we are losing the flexibility that
would allow changes that have smaller adjustment costs for current and future
generations. Stalling will raise the likelihood that these guarantees become à la carte options.
President Obama needs a mandate to break
Washington’s partisan budget logjam. In 2008, many thought that just electing Obama
would bring change. Democrats forgot about the “blue dogs”. They forgot about
the number of Democrats in competitive districts. Further, Senate Democrats did
not have a filibuster proof majority. Continued stalemate will slow economic
Finally, former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill
coined the phrase that “all politics is local.” Today, “all economics is local.”
The “downstream” impacts of efforts to place more human priority investments on
the à la carte portion of the
menu will be greater as you move down the ballot from the presidential election
to your local town council and school board elections.
Make sure that you and your friends are engaged at all levels
of the ballot. Vote.
Republican policymakers that seek to implement austerity programs to address the Nation’s fiscal problems rationalize the bitter medicine by asserting that failing to reduce the Nation’s debt will place an undue burden on future generations.
However, these policymakers fail to include the long-term costs associated with implementing austerity programs too early in the Nation’s recovery, and policies that remove oversight of the private sector and weaken workers' voice.
If these policies are pursued, future generations may not face a serious debt burden, but the following will happen:
• Long-term unemployment will remain elevated,
• Minority, youth, and older worker joblessness will remain elevated, and
• Part-time employment will remain elevated.
As a result, future generations will have to pay for the costs of:
• Elevated worker idleness and higher crime rates,
• Larger class sizes and fewer teacher resources,
• Elevated levels of clinical depression,
• Elevated levels of poverty and food insecurity, and
• Elevated numbers of families that can’t achieve a “living wage”.
When these and other costs are included, immediately cutting government spending and returning to the policies of the 1980s at a time when the recovery has stalled, becomes an unattractive and dangerous policy path.
I am Professor and chief economist at the Heldrich Center, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, and a senior research affiliate of the National Poverty Center, University of Michigan. Prior coming to Rutgers, I served as chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2000-2001, appointed to that position by Alexis Herman, U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Locally, I served as Vice Chair of Montgomery Township's planning board. Currently, I am Board Chair of Somerset County United Way's Local Operating Board and a Board member of the Northern New Jersey United Way. At the national level, I serve on the National Urban League's Council of Economic Advisors and am a US Trustee for United Way World Wide.
My research examines issues in labor economics and the economics of social problems. Today, I am following the recession and recovery's impacts on American families.