Wage Gap

Wage Gap

Rodriguez Sees Multifaceted Remedies to Addressing the Wage Gap
On average women earn less than men, but the causes of this problem are multifaceted. Lack of equal pay for equal work is not the main culprit. 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.

There are powerful systemic and institutional factors contributing to this problem, but we can address them.

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Raising the Federal Minimum Wage
Women make up nearly two-thirds of workers who are employed at minimum wage jobs. Therefore, raising the minimum wage is one of the means that can be used to address the wage gap. The relative value of a minimum wage salary has declined by nearly 20 percent since the last hike in the 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 2021. Individual states and cities would still have the right to set a minimum wage higher than the federal standard.

The federal minimum wage for tipped labor, which stands at $2.13 per hour, has not been raised in the past seventeen years. Women also make up the vast majority of American workers employed as tipped laborers. 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 differences that account for the wage gap.

Supporting Safe & Affordable Child Care
Often women who labor among the so-called “working poor” must make the choice of whether or not they can work based upon their access to safe, affordable and reliable child care. Many rely on family, neighbors or other stopgap measures, but interruptions in such arrangements make it difficult for them to stay consistently employed. We must increase the levels of state and federal support for safe and affordable child care for working women as well as early childhood education programs.

The wage gap is directly correlated to poverty in the United States, and women and children are those who most often fall victim to poverty. In addition, among many poor and single-parent families, women are the primary breadwinners, so wage barriers perpetuate the cycle of poverty for many.

The wage gap is not a stand-alone story unrelated to other public policy concerns, so we must use a more holistic approach to address this severe issue. Although the policy initiatives outlined here may not be the ultimate solution, they certainly will move us closer to a more equitable wage for men and women in American society.

 Higher Education Costs

Higher Education Costs

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. Several candidates during the last presidential primaries talked about plans to help with this burden by permitting individuals to refinance loans while others advocated measures that included providing free college education for students at public universities. However, the root of the problem is defining what the federal and state governments can do to reduce the cost of higher education in the first place. As a career educator, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and it has troubled me over the years.

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The cost of a higher education has skyrocketed since the early-1980s when federally-backed student loans were made accessible to all.

This infusion of loan money unleashed a torrent of marketing and expansion. 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 more appealing to prospective students and draw in that loan money. Along with this frenzy of expansion came an expansion of administrative personnel, often earning high salaries. We now have state universities that boast an admirable 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio, but they try to hide an absurd 9:1 administrator-to-student ratio.

Any taxpayer should be able to find out how much of the cost of operating a public university goes to administration and how much it costs to raise a dollar in development support. These are facts that matter, and we must reward the efficient.

Several European nations that make higher education free have done this by streamlining the educational process using a “bare bones” approach focusing entirely upon the quality of the education and removing the unnecessary frills from the equation.

Additional critical federal support to public colleges and universities comes from grants-in-aid that are provided to support faculty research efforts. In general, these awards are based entirely upon the quality of the research proposals, but what if how successful an institution is at staying focused upon its academic mission was also considered? This would help guarantee that federal grants are not used to further bloat unnecessary expenditures and would motivate faculty to become passionate advocates of real cost reductions.

If motivated public institutions reduce their costs, it is possible that a combination of state and federal support can be used to fund two-years of a community college education. The demands of the twenty-first century economy require greater skills, and government must act accordingly.

 Biofuels

Biofuels

Next-Generation Biofuels Can Benefit Central Illinois Communities According to Rodriguez
The rise of the biofuels industry has been good for economic development in our rural and agricultural communities. Careful policy decisions can keep this partnership mutually beneficial for the generations to come. We need to give special consideration to the independent and smaller farms who want to participate since there is still much uncertainty that makes it challenging to read changing market signals.

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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. Choices have to be made based upon assumptions about a lot of unknowns:

  • Future commodities prices
  • Wildly-erratic oil futures
  • Shifting governmental targets for the Renewable Fuel Standard

It is important to note that the biofuels/agriculture partnership has not resulted in the food vs. fuel dilemma that many predicted in the early years. A major reason for this is the marketing of residual co-products for feed and other purposes once ethanol and biodiesel have been extracted from the initial biomass.

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 so we position Central Illinois farms and rural communities to prosper from the continued growth of this 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. Farmers can be encouraged to plant switchgrass in marginal lands that cannot be used for corn production. This approach has been used effectively in Brazil and other nations. There are small communities around the U.S. that have obtained federal grant money to develop local initiatives where yard waste is converted into biofuel. Innovative communities in Central Illinois could pilot such an initiative to foster further local economic development.

Planning ahead must also include consideration of expanding U.S. exports within this sector. 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 pegged to greater expansion of real opportunities for both suppliers and producers. Expanding markets can provide great benefits for all parties. 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, food security and 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 this is done in a sustainable manner.

 Tax Reform

Tax Reform

Rodriguez Says That We Need Real Tax Reform
The U.S. the tax code is bloated, unnecessarily complex, and seemingly broken. All of the statutes, regulations, and related case law that constitute the tax code combined would cover about 70,000 pages consisting of more than ten million words. Complying with this lengthy and complex system creates a huge burden to the tune of an estimated 8.9 billion hours and $409 billion in lost productivity per year. As Americans, we must demand a bipartisan commitment to true reforms that make this easier and more efficient.

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Much of the complexity results from the numerous deductions that have accrued over time due to the toxic influence of special interests. This means that firms with the most creative accountants may do much better than those that provide the best products and services. Individuals with the most creative accountants may pay far less than their fair share of taxes. Not only does this cause a tremendous disparity in the amount that different companies and individuals pay, it also decreases government revenues and limits vital services.

We need a tax reform initiative to reduce complexity, create a fairer system, and reduce compliance costs so that individuals and businesses can reallocate their resources to more productive tasks. We must work together in a bipartisan fashion to restructure our tax system rather than simply applying new bandages.

Such fixes need to include:

  • Reducing the number of special deductions and tax credits.

  • Effectively generating government revenues without increasing tax rates on average Americans by creating simple individual and family allowances to ensure equitability and fairness.

  • Eliminating tax loopholes for certain businesses that cost the government billions of dollars in needed revenue.

Junius Rodriguez believes that essential fairness must be the benchmark. He notes 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.”