By Lou Ann Anderson | Watchdog Arena
Is it time for an “American Association of Young Persons”? It’s not so far-fetched an idea according to Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young, a new book by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer.
According to Furchtgott-Roth, the book is about creating awareness for America’s young, largely those born 1981 to 1997 and often characterized as millennials.
“This book was written to describe the process whereby our government is biased in favor of the old and against the young,” Furchtgott-Roth said Friday at an Austin book signing sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and America’s Future Foundation.
“It’s a systematic bias and not just a matter that we are expecting young people to pay off the $18 trillion in national debt and the $5 trillion in state debt although that is very important also,” she said. “It starts with education, it continues into the work force, it even extends into health care.”
Benefit at students’ expense
The bias, she explained, starts in elementary school as teachers unions play favorites with older, unqualified teachers. It’s difficult to get a teacher fired, so children are getting a worse education when unqualified teachers are allowed to continue instead of being terminated.
New York City Department of Education’s reassignment rooms illustrate the expense and harms such practices create. Nicknamed “rubber rooms,” these facilities accommodate unqualified teachers that administrators can’t get off the payroll.
“Data shows if you replace a teacher in the bottom 5 percent with a median teacher – an average-performing teacher – the lifetime income of a 28-person class will go up by about quarter of a million dollars,” Furchtgott-Roth said.
Poor-performing teachers also impact graduation rates.
Sending children to schools where the graduation rates are only 55 percent is something Furchtgott-Roth calls “a travesty.”
“We make children go to their neighborhood schools even though they are not very good schools.”
“With food stamps we say you can go to any grocery store you want,” she offered. “There would be a revolution if we said low-income people have to go to their neighborhood grocery stores, but with schools, you have to go to the neighboring schools.”
New York City’s Harlem Success Academies are charter schools with students graduating in the top 1 percent of New York state. Furchtgott-Roth cites a need for more charter schools like these where physics are started in kindergarten and where there’s safety and discipline.
“This is for young people’s sake. We shouldn’t be kowtowing to these unions that basically stump our children making progress.”
Bias goes to college
In researching Disinherited, Furchtgott-Roth found 70 percent of college students have debt averaging $27,000.
“Not only are we handicapping children by giving them a worse elementary and secondary school education, but we are further handicapping them when they graduate from college,” she noted.
High school guidance counselors and parents in our culture are seen aiming our students into four-year colleges even though graduation often doesn’t bring a job to pay off the debt incurred.
Some students work while taking college classes. Some ultimately drop out, but can’t disqualify themselves from the debt incurred.
“We need to take a fresh look at what we’re telling our young people to do,” Furchtgott-Roth said.
“I’ve done research on community colleges in the state of Florida. If you have a two-year associate degree in one of the high-return professions, such as one of the health care or computer science professions, then you can be making $45,000 a year when you graduate and you’re practically assured a job.”
Community colleges costing about $3,000 a year offer opportunity that includes no debt, two years of education and “a practically guaranteed job afterward.”
“Instead, we put pressure on them suggesting the only way to get ahead is a four-year college and it’s better to major in English literature or one of these things with ‘studies’ at the end of it like African-American studies or women’s studies or gender studies,” Furchtgott-Roth argued.
“It’s just not true and it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said of the widespread push toward four-year programs. “We are disfavoring young people when we are giving them this bad advice.”
Protecting the entrenched
Furchtgott-Roth discussed barriers young people face in the workplace.
”We’re favoring entrenched interests over new entrants into the workplace,” she explained. “Look at, for example, unpaid internships. Unpaid internships are a great way to get into the workforce.”
Though unpaid internships are available these days at the White House, in Congress, and probably in many state governments, Furchtgott-Roth says you cannot get one at major companies like Siemens, Mercedes-Benz, Citibank, The New Yorker or Warner Bros. Records because the Labor Department basically prohibits unpaid internships at for-profit companies.
Many students are shut out of this opportunity, as currently, you have to be paid or get college credit. Many kids can’t get college credit for their internships.
Furchtgott-Roth suggests Congress could override this regulation by passing a simple bill calling for unpaid internships at for-profit companies. Limitations to dissuade potential exploitation could be added.
Licensing as a barrier
Though Texas has done a great job rolling back some of these rules, Furchtgott-Roth suggests occupational licensing prevents young people both from starting their own companies and from getting into businesses about which they are passionate.
“If someone wants to start an interior design company, in some states you need years of experience and a license even though no one died from a mismatched couch and arm chair,” she jokingly reminded.
“In 10 states you have to have a license to be a tree trimmer even, though for practical purposes, if you went through the states that require tree trimming licenses, would you be able to tell any difference between the licensed and unlicensed trimmers?”
“It’s just a way of keeping young people out of the workforce,” she concluded.
Financing entitlement black holes
Young people are paying in to Social Security and Medicare, but Furchtgott-Roth says many don’t seem to be mad about it.
She notes, though, they resoundingly answer no when asked, “Is it fair that you are paying Social Security payments for a program that isn’t even going to be there when you retire?” They say the same on Medicare.
“Changing these programs is not going to be that difficult,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be that much of a change from an economic point of view.”
Furchtgott-Roth calls for gradually raising the retirement age and changing the indexing of benefits from wage indexing to price indexing.
“Right now, Social Security benefits are indexed to the level of wages in the economy so benefits for old people rise with wage levels in the economy and wages rise higher than prices,” she explained.
“If we just change the indexing from wages to prices, benefits would rise with price levels of the economy and it would be slightly slower with the retirement age slightly rising.”
If nothing is done, Furchtgott-Roth contends that by 2050, payroll taxes would have to be 30 percent in order to pay for these programs. She sees that impact as some European countries have reached the 30 percent level and now face economic growth much slower than our own.
Furchtgott-Roth believes bold leadership on these numerous fronts is key for any turning around the disinheritance of America’s young. She says young people connect to what’s happening when presented with questions like this:
- Is it fair that you are paying for programs that won’t exist isn’t even when you retire?
- Is it fair that low-income children have to go to neighborhood schools where the graduation rate is 55 percent?
- Is it fair that you are graduating with $27,000 worth of debt and you might not find a job?
“This isn’t an inter-generational war. Parents and grandparents that we have spoken to are equally unhappy about the situation that their children are in. They want their kids to get jobs; they want their kids to be successful. They don’t want their kids to be paying for programs that won’t be there. We need a leader who’s going to take the lead and reform these programs.”
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.