Benny's World

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The America JRE (and I) Believe In

JRE posted his version of the State of the Union and how to make it better. It is a refreshing vision that no one in the Congress is talking about, and it's good that JRE has the freedom now to say what he believes:

I am grateful for the opportunity to talk with you about the state of our union on the day of the president’s address to our country. While it is discouraging for all of us to see our country moving in the wrong direction, we need to take this opportunity to offer ideas for how to get the nation back on track.


Our Shared Vision: A Working Society

Above all, we must keep America's promise of opportunity for all. We must build a Working Society--an America where everyone who works hard finally has the rewards to show for it.
In the Working Society, no one who works full-time will have to raise children in poverty or live in fear that one health emergency or pink slip will put them on the streets.

In the Working Society, everyone who works full-time will at last have something to show for it--a home of their own or an account where their savings and paycheck can grow. And in the Working Society, everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain: to work, to hold off having kids until they are ready, and to do their part for their kids when the time comes.

We must take five important steps to move toward this vision.

First: Work should lead to home ownership. Today, the rich get subsidies and loopholes while the poor get ravaged by predatory lenders. The poor pay higher interest rates on their loans, which is one factor preventing them from building assets, like owning a home. We should do two things. First, we should crack down on predatory lenders and their obscene practices. And we should make this offer to poor families going into the workforce: for the first five years you are working, we will set aside up to $1,000 in an account to help you make home payments. After five years, you'll have up to $5,000 for a down payment on a home of your own.
At the same time, we should give working parents who are poor a chance to move into neighborhoods with better schools by giving them housing vouchers. That will not only expand opportunity; it will build healthier communities through cultural integration.

Second: Work should lead to savings and the creation of assets. We should offer low-income Americans "work bonds"--an extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps families save for the future. Low-income working families would receive an extra credit of up to $500 per year that would be directly deposited into a new account held by a bank or a safe stock fund with low fees. If families put away more, the amount in the account would grow, and it would be available not just for retirement, but also to open a small business - the engine of our economy--or to meet a personal emergency.

Third: Work should give you a good education. We will never end poverty unless we improve our schools and I'd like to just touch on one idea. If you have been accepted to college, stay out of trouble in high school and agree to work 10 hours-a-week your first year in college, you ought to get your first year of tuition at a public university or community college for free. I have talked about this concept of "College for Everyone" for years and right now I am working on a new pilot project in North Carolina to test out this idea in an entire county.

Fourth: Work must pay fairly. We must raise the minimum wage. With the costs of health care, energy and housing shooting through the roof, working Americans living on the minimum wage have seen their pay stay the same for eight years now. The administration's response is that minimum wage is intended for part-time teenage workers and families aren't supposed to live on the minimum wage. But the reality is that they are. If Congress will not raise the minimum wage, or the president threatens to veto a raise, then we have to go state-by-state to raise the minimum wage. We need to go further and end the political grandstanding in opposition to every effort to raise the minimum wage: we should attach the annual federal minimum wage to the poverty line, guaranteeing that the full-time worker in this bountiful country lives a life out of poverty.

Fifth: Finally, we need to work to strengthen families. All of us--parents, teachers, clergy, leaders--we all need to stand together and speak simple truths: it is wrong when boys and young men father children, but don't care for them. It is wrong when girls and young women bear children that they aren't ready to care for. And it is wrong when all Americans see this happening and do nothing to stop it. And there are simple things we can do to strengthen families, including the ones I've outlined above. The 2001 tax bill eliminated the marriage penalty for the middle class, but poor families can still get hit with a $3,000 marriage penalty. That makes no sense. And we also need to finish the job of welfare reform. It helped millions of poor mothers get jobs, but too many young men were left behind. So we should make sure that young fathers get the same deal as young mothers. You have to work and take responsibility for your children. In return, we'll help you find a job.

Got your attention? Read the rest here.


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