Economic Security

The Green New Deal as proposed calls for the provision of economic security for all Americans. And that’s all it says about it. Now we’re in favor of it in the abstract, but we need a definition in order to start on a road map.

The International Committee of the Red Cross defines economic security as “the ability of individuals, households or communities to cover their essential needs sustainably and with dignity. This can vary according to an individual’s physical needs, the environment and prevailing cultural standards. Food, basic shelter, clothing and hygiene qualify as essential needs, as does the related expenditure; the essential assets needed to earn a living, and the costs associated with health care and education also qualify.”

U.S. gives this as a ‘legal’ definition: “Economic security refers to the condition of having a stable source of financial income that allows for the on-going maintenance of one’s standard of living currently and in the near future. It requires an assured basic income for individuals, usually from productive and remunerative work or, as a last resort, from a publicly financed safety net. “

The nature of work is rapidly changing, with more of our GDP being generated by services and less by production of food, films and machines. More work is being accomplished in the ‘gig’ economy by freelancers and independent contractors. The nature of the work force is changing, with many older Americans unable to retire at 65, 66 or 67 and more young people delaying their entry into the world of work. The nature of an American’s essential needs is changing, with additions (smart phone) and subtractions (2 cars in every garage, or even a garage).

Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are perceived as a threat to existing jobs. The inability of many Baby Boomers to extricate themselves from the workforce is helping keep wages low and prevent the accession of those younger than them to positions of higher responsibility.

So this is not an easy question to address. Some foresee a world of butlers and barbers who used to be mechanics and miners. Some think a Universal Basic Income is the only practical solution.

But out crystal ball is cloudy regarding the likelihood of intense disruption of the workforce due to technology. Certainly in the past, innovation brought forth new jobs to replace those automated out of existence.

We feel that, for the short term at least, we can provide better economic security by strengthening existing institutions such as Social Security, Medicare (for all who want it), unemployment insurance and adult education. We should certainly be on the lookout for sudden disruption and be prepared to address it.

But addressing poverty has to be Job One for the Green New Deal.

In 2016, the official poverty thresholds were:

  • $12,486 for a single individual under age 65
  • $14,507 a household of two people with a householder 65 years or older with no children
  • $24,339 for a family of four with two children under age 18

Bearing in mind that the average rent for an apartment in America is $1,405 a month, or $16,860 a year, we suspect that the official poverty thresholds could use updating. And perhaps that’s the first step–looking accurately at the scope of the problem.

We’re really convinced that taking an honest look at real data is a precondition for dealing with economic security.

Just picking a city at random, Dayton Ohio is marketed on the internet as having a relatively low cost of living, 4% lower than the average for Ohio, with low rents and low prices. But the MIT Living Wage Calculator tells us that a living wage in Dayton is $22,232 for a single adult, $31,284 for two adults and no children and $41,928 for a family of four with two children. Compare the Living Wage with official poverty thresholds is dispiriting, to say the least.

Using the very low poverty thresholds currently put forth, the official poverty rate in the United States of America is 12.3 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates. That year, an estimated 39.7 million Americans lived in poverty according to the official measure. We cannot read that figure without shaking our heads in something close to horror.

Currently, workers and progressive politicians are campaigning for a floor wage of $15 an hour. Currently, 42% of American workers earn less than $15 an hour. Logically, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be a good first step towards providing economic security for Americans. Indexing it to inflation would be a good second step.

But there are many other steps to take to provide economic security and there will be many other posts on this site talking about those steps. Identifying a precondition–a fair look at accurate data–and a first step–raising the minimum wage to match the living wage–is enough for today.


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