Rodriguez Sees Multifaceted Remedies to Addressing the Wage Gap
Labor Day presents the perfect time for focusing upon one of the more persistent problems that plagues the labor market—the gender-based wage gap. On average women earn less than men, but the causes of this problem are multifaceted and extend far beyond the casual assumption that wage inequality for equitable work is the key culprit. In fact, federal law has prohibited employers from gender-based wage discrimination since passage of the Equal Pay Act (1963) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), and this was reinforced in 2009 with the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
That the wage gap has persisted through the years is evidence that systemic and institutional factors are at play that contribute to this problem.
Since women constitute nearly two-thirds of workers who are employed at minimum wage jobs, an effort to raise the minimum wage is one of the means that can be used to address the wage gap. The purchasing power of the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation) has been erratic through the years, and the relative value of a minimum wage salary has declined by nearly 20 percent since the last hike in minimum wage occurred back in 2009. I would like to see the federal government implement a three-year tiered plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2019. Individual states and cities would retain the right to use a minimum wage that his higher than the federal standard, but this adjustment would significantly raise the threshold so that wage gap differences would be lessened.
The federal minimum wage for tipped labor, which stands at $2.13 per hour, has not been raised in the past fifteen years. Since women also constitute the vast majority of American workers who are employed as tipped laborers, an increase in the tipped minimum wage would also have an impact upon efforts to remedy the wage gap. I believe that the federal minimum tipped wage should ultimately be $5.05 (half of the newly proposed minimum wage) to be achieved on a three-year tiered plan of increase. These two initiatives would go a long way in helping to remedy much of the wage differences that account for the wage gap.
Other factors that must be considered if we hope to address the wage gap are the levels of support that we find at the state and federal levels to help provide safe and affordable child care for working women as well as substantial investment in early childhood education programs. All too often women who labor among the so-called “working poor” must make the choice of whether or not they can work due to the financial constraints that child care costs provide. Frequently reliance on family to provide such services, or other less than ideal circumstances, is used as a stopgap measure, but interruptions in such arrangements makes it difficult for one to sustain employment for an extended period of time.
We often consider the circumstances of the wage gap as a stand-alone story that is secondary to other public policy concerns, but we must use a more holistic approach to recognize the severity of this issue and summon the means to address it. The wage gap has a direct correlation to poverty in the United States, and by curious circumstance women and children are those who fall victim to poverty more often than not. In addition, among many poor and single-parent families women are the primary breadwinners, so wage barriers merely perpetuate the cycle of poverty for many. Although the policy initiatives that are outlined here may not be the ultimate systemic solution that will remedy the wage gap, they certainly will move us closer to a more equitable wage differential in American society.
Rodriguez Says that Rising Costs of Higher Education Must Be Curtailed
The rising costs of higher education and the ever-expanding burden of college debt are issues that have gained national attention during the 2016 election season. Several candidates during the presidential primaries advanced plans of how they might alleviate the effects of college debt by permitting individuals to refinance loans while others advocated various measures that might include providing free college education for students at public universities.
Interestingly enough, no one seems to be speaking to the root of the problem itself and that is what can government (at both the federal and state levels) do to reduce the costs of higher education? As a career educator, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and it is one that has troubled me over the years.
Taxpayers at the state and federal level are helping to subsidize the rising costs of higher education, but few might know what exactly they are supporting. We have witnessed a skyrocketing increase in the costs associated with higher education since the early-1980s when federally-backed student loans were made accessible to all who might seek to attain a college or university degree. This infusion of loan money unleashed a torrent of unbridled marketing and expansion as institutions sought to make themselves more appealing to the desires and interests of potential students who were facing a “buyer’s market” of options as to where they might choose to attend. Many institutions lost sight of their primary purpose—providing a quality education—as they began to focus more on special amenities that would make their campuses appealing and suddenly “curb appeal” became more of a quality metric than did graduation rate. All of this came at a cost.
Associated with this frenzy of expansion came an expansion of administrative personnel, often earning high salaries, who fancied themselves as business executives who could manage a more efficient academic mission at these public institutions. We now have state universities that boast a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which is admirable, yet try to hide a 9:1 administrator-to-student ratio, which is absurd. To repeat an earlier point, all of this comes at a cost. Several European nations that have found the means to make higher education free have managed to do this by streamlining the educational process to a “bare bones” approach that focuses entirely upon the quality of the education that is being provided and removes the supposedly unnecessary frills from the equation. Any taxpayer in the U.S. should be able to find out what is the percentage costs of administration that is necessary to operate a public university, and they should also be privy to the exact cost of how much it takes for any public university to raise a dollar in development support. These are facts that matter, and we must learn to reward the efficient.
Federal support to higher educational institutions, outside of grants and other aid that is made available to students, comes in the form of grants-in-aid that are provided to support research efforts by faculty at public universities. In many respects, such grants are the lifeblood of many esteemed institutions of higher education. In general, these awards are based entirely upon the quality of the research proposals that are under consideration, but what if one other factor was considered in making such decisions? How successful an institution remains focused upon its academic mission should be a point of consideration to guarantee that federal grants are not being used to further the bloat of unnecessary expenditures that expand the costs of higher education at public universities. This would also motivate faculty to become passionate advocates of real reform in keeping down the rising costs of higher education.
I believe that there are very real measures that can be taken at the state and federal levels to reduce the costs of higher education, so it would be wise of public institutions to implement such savings of their own volition. If this is done, then it is possible that a combination of state and federal support can be used to fund two-years of a community college education for those citizens who seek to advance their education and training. Just as we have found it necessary in the past to fund K-12 public education to prepare an educated citizenry and workforce, the demands of the twenty-first century economy require a greater skill set, and government must act accordingly.
Next-Generation Biofuels Can Benefit Central Illinois Communities According to Rodriguez
The rise of the biofuels industry has been advantageous to economic development within the rural and agricultural communities of Central Illinois, and prudent policy considerations can ensure that this partnership remains mutually beneficial for the next generation and beyond. Special consideration must be made for the independent and smaller farms that engage within the biofuels sector since the ability to read changing market signals is one of the most challenging aspects of an industry that still remains fraught with uncertainty.
The difficulty of making the right choices when determining how many acres to plant in corn and how many to plant in beans can become a make-or-break decision for those farmers who are operating close to the margins. Basing such assumptions upon anticipated commodities prices and wildly-erratic oil futures is challenging enough, but this becomes all the more difficult when governmental targets shift as a result of Renewable Fuel Standard and smaller producers often find themselves operating in the dark when making intended acreage decisions.
By and large the biofuels industry has aided development in the agricultural sector while not hindering the capacity of Illinois farmers to produce feed and foodstuffs. The nation’s 2015 corn harvest, the third-largest ever, produced a total of 13.6 billion bushels and demonstrated that the U.S. has the capacity to produce sufficient amounts of fuel, feed, and food from this bounty. Significant in this consideration is the marketing of residual co-products for feed and other purposes once ethanol and biodiesel have been extracted from the initial biomass. Accordingly, we have not faced the food vs. fuel dilemma that many had predicted in the early years of the biofuels sector.
It is important that we begin to plan for and invest in the changes that will be necessary for the next generation of biofuel development, and doing so now can position Central Illinois farms and rural communities to prosper from the continued growth of this economic sector. The advent of celluloid ethanol from biomass is one of the most promising aspects to consider. The use of corn stover, straw, or other harvest residue can provide additional material that can be converted into biofuel. Additionally, farmers might be encouraged to plant switchgrass in marginal lands that also can be used for this purpose while not diminishing acreage going into corn production. This approach has been used effectively in Brazil and other nations that have encouraged innovation in their expanding next-generation biofuels sectors. In addition, there are small communities around the U.S. that have obtained federal grant money to develop local initiatives in which yard waste is converted into biofuel. We may find innovative communities in Central Illinois that would be willing to pilot such an initiative to foster further local economic development.
Planning ahead for the next generation of biofuels production must also include consideration of expanding U.S. exports within this sector, and much of this could be targeted to hemispheric markets where the potential for development is great. This would require the reduction of trade barriers that are in place. We must also consider the gradual reduction of subsidies within the biofuels sector, but this must be pegged to greater expansion of real opportunities for both suppliers and producers within this industry. Expanding markets can provide great benefits for all parties concerned.
Although the expansion of the biofuels sector would ideally work best if left to market forces alone, the strained relationship that exists between the biofuels industry and the petroleum industry makes continued regulation necessary for the time being. In addition, some federal oversight is needed to guarantee national security and food security concerns as well as environmental quality issues related to the production and distribution of biofuels products. The U.S. Congress must support pro-growth policies that can aid the development of next-generation biofuels while at the same time guaranteeing that sustainability is one of the guiding principles that directs this development.
To many individuals the U.S. Tax System is a reflection of the government as a whole, as the tax code is bloated, unnecessarily complex, and seemingly broken. If we were to combine all the statutes, regulations, and related case law that constitute the tax code, the total would include about 70,000 pages consisting of more than ten million words. Such a lengthy and complex system creates a huge burden when it comes to the amount of time and related costs to comply with our broken system to the tune of an estimated 8.9 billion hours and $409 billion in lost productivity per year.
Much of the complexity in the tax code results from the numerous deductions that have accrued over time due to the toxic influence of special interests. In addition, the U.S. currently maintains the highest marginal corporate tax rate of all developed nations in the world at 39.1 percent as compared to the average rate of 24.1 percent among the other developed nations. This system is untenable since such a tax rate makes the U.S. a less competitive place to do business and encourages multination corporations to find creative ways to shift as much income overseas to countries with lower tax rates. This, in turn, creates an unwieldly situation in which the firms that have the most creative accountants benefit over those that provide the best products and services. Moreover, this causes tremendous disparity in the amount that different companies pay in taxes while also decreasing government revenues and limiting necessary vital services.
With such a high level of complexity and a high compliance cost, it is clear that we need to do better to reform our current tax system. The goals of any tax reform initiative should be to reduce complexity, to create a fairer system, and to reduce compliance costs so that individuals and businesses can reallocate their resources to more productive tasks. In order for us to achieve this end, we must work together in a bipartisan fashion to restructure our tax system rather than simply applying new bandages to a broken system.
Such fixes to the tax code will need to include a simplification in the number of the special deductions and tax credits that are currently available. Since these deductions and credits create unneeded complexity, we can more effectively achieve the goal of generating government revenues without increasing tax rates on average Americans by creating simple individual and family allowances that would be available to all Americans to ensure that equitability and fairness are essential elements of any tax system overhaul.
In addition, it is essential that we create a more competitive corporate tax system that reduces the marginal tax rates on corporate income while simultaneously eliminating tax loopholes for certain business that cost the government billions of dollars in needed revenue. Such a step is important to create an environment where entrepreneurs can focus on running their businesses instead of navigating the tax system. As Americans, we do not have to accept a broken and overly complex tax system. Instead, we should and must demand true reforms that streamline the system and raise sufficient revenues to fund government services adequately. By making a firm commitment to bipartisanship in order to get things done, we can achieve real reforms such as creating more competitive corporate tax rates, an idea for which both Democrats and Republicans have indicated support in the past.
Junius Rodriguez believes that essential fairness must be the benchmark as we reform the U.S. tax code. He noted that “Great nations are those that shoulder the responsibility that is incumbent upon them rather than bequeath to future generations the burden of our folly. True tax reform that is fair and equitable in nature can be our greatest civic undertaking of this century, and if done properly, it can generate much-needed revenue to serve the nation’s interests. This is what the People today are demanding of those who wish to serve and lead.”