Public Sector Enhancements

Table of Contents

The information on our nation’s housing crisis and its solution totals 6,447 words. They are excerpted from the Amazon as Metaphor manuscript.  (The next subject is “Provide Free College Education”)

Our Nation's Housing Crisis

For the lowest income quintile (25.6 million households), average annual income declined from $14,498 in 2000 to $13,258 in 2017, an 8.6% decline, while average rents rose 73.3%.[1] The bottom quintile’s rent averages 56% of their income, a share almost double the 30% limit considered affordable according to HUD guidelines.[2] So many of the bottom income quintile’s 25.6 million households can’t meet other basic needs, such as for food, transportation, prescription drugs, education or training, and other needs.[3] A single person earning the minimum wage full-time can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.[4]

The average household income of the second and third from the bottom income quintiles increased by 0.05% over the 2000 to 2017 period that average rents rose 73.3%.[5] In 2018, rent as a percentage of income for all households was 43.6% or 45% above the affordable limit.[6]

A housing undersupply is a significant contributor to rising housing costs. Since annual household formation this decade averaged 1.04 million, while housing production averaged 880,000 units, we have an undersupply of 1.6 million units.[7] Rising rent is also an enduring consequence of the Great Recession, which forced several million households from their homes into the rental market. Many housing crisis created ex-homeowners are still having a hard time qualifying for mortgages because of damaged credit scores. In 2016, there were 1.1 million fewer homeowners, 8.7 million more renters, and higher profits for landlords than in 2006.[8] From 2009 to 2014, landlord net profit margins went from 3.15% to 13.08%, or more than quadrupled.[9]

Most renters prefer to own their residence; instead, to live in their homes, they labor for the profit of others—their landlords. [10] This relationship is not very dissimilar to the one between feudalism’s serfs and lords. Many millions of Americans have been forced into rental market serfdom due to soaring house  prices. Accounting for inflation, house prices have jumped 118% since 1965, while income has only increased by 15%.[11]

[1] https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-income-households.html, rent cost data: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CUUR0000SEHA

[2] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2017/12/19/is-the-rent-too-damn-high-or-are-incomes-too-low/ , https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_featd_article_092214.html

[3] https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/one-four-americas-housing-assistance-lottery

[4] https://reports.nlihc.org/oor

[5] https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-income-households.html

[6] https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/interactives/sce/sce/downloads/data/frbny_sce_housing_chartpacket2018.pdf

[7] https://www.cbre.us/research-and-reports/US-Multifamily-Research-Brief–Housing-Undersupply-Contributes-to-Housing-Affordability-Challenge–J

[8] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/19/more-u-s-households-are-renting-than-at-any-point-in-50-years/ft_17-07-18_renterssignificantgrowth_3/

[9] https://www.inc.com/sageworks/why-real-estate-leasing-profits-are-through-the-roof.html

[10] https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/interactives/sce/sce/downloads/data/frbny_sce_housing_chartpacket2018.pdf

[11] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/10/home-prices-are-now-rising-much-faster-than-incomes-studies-show.html

Housing Insecurity

The bottom income quintile has an average savings of $800, and the next quintile’s average savings is $2,100.[1] So, after an unexpected expense or a job loss, millions of Americans have then had to deal with the trauma of homelessness.

In 2017, the average annual single-coverage and family-coverage medical insurance deductible were $1,808 and $3,396, respectively.[2] So tens of millions of Americans have less savings than their health insurance deductible, and those who get a serious illness, including some in the “middle-class,” must choose between paying their medical or housing bills.

For whatever reason, renters who can’t pay their rent eventually are forcibly removed from their home, a common occurrence in America. Nearly 83 million eviction-related court records from 2000 to 2016 are in Princeton University’s Eviction Lab’s national database.[3] The database does not include the many de facto evictions where landlords raise the rent by amounts large enough to force tenants to leave their homes. The 83 million also excludes cases where landlords, instead of filing a court case, bribe tenants to go with a small payment and a promise not to put an eviction on their record. As most renters know, an eviction record can make it difficult to find decent housing.

From 2010 to 2016, a period after the financial crisis created recession ended, landlords filed, on average, 2.4 million eviction cases and evicted 939 thousand tenants per year.[4] As a result, many people were also expelled from their community, and children had to switch schools.  

Evicted families regularly lose their possessions, which are piled on the sidewalk or placed in storage. They can reclaim stored possessions if they pay a fee commonly too high for them to pay. Studies also show that the stressful and drawn-out process of being forcibly expelled from their home causes people to make mistakes at work and lose their job.[5] Poverty causes eviction, and eviction causes and exacerbates poverty.

The stress induced by persistent housing instability and poverty can harm children’s and adults’ physical and emotional health. High housing costs also harm health through their effects on diet. Families with affordable housing spend, on average, $151 more on food a month than families with housing costs over 50% of income.[6] Children who receive inadequate nutrition are sick more often, suffer growth and developmental impairments, and have lower educational achievement. As I noted earlier, accounting for the lower economic productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs resulting from child homelessness yield a total cost of child poverty of $1.03 trillion per year. For every dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty, the country would save at least seven dollars of the economic costs of poverty.[7]

Eliminating poverty’s enormous and extensive costs requires ensuring everyone has stable, decent, affordable housing. Despite being the wealthiest nation in history, we are far from this ideal.

 

[1] https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-the-average-bank-account-balance-4171574

[2] https://meps.ahrq.gov/data_files/publications/st513/stat513.shtml

[3] https://nlihc.org/resource/national-database-evictions-released

[4] https://evictionlab.org/national-estimates/

[5] https://evictionlab.org/why-eviction-matters/#eviction-resources

[6] https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/one-four-americas-housing-assistance-lottery

[7] Estimating the Economic Cost of Childhood Poverty in the United States, Michael McLaughlin, Mark R Rank, Social Work Research, Volume 42, Issue 2, June 2018, Pages 73–83

Homelessness in America

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the U.S. GDP per capita is more than quadruple what it was in 1950, so we can easily ensure that everyone meets their basic needs.[1] That we are not doing this and even the extreme deprivation of homelessness is common would normally motivate widespread outrage and demands to address the injustices. It does not, though, for the same reasons we are not solving any major social problem: The rich’s influence on our media, educational institutions, and political system. Using their extraordinary power to bound the debate within all our institutions that discuss and decide on public issues ensures the trends directing increasing wealth and power to them continue.

According to HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, on average, there were 553,000 homeless Americans per night in January 2018. HUD counts the number of people in homeless shelters, some other forms of transitional housing, and some who are unsheltered.

HUD doesn’t count people sleeping on someone’s couch or floor because they can’t afford rent—a number estimated to be 4.4 million in 2017.[2] Nor does it count the people in jails or prisons, mental health or substance abuse centers, or hospitals who would be homeless if they were not in these facilities.

HUD’s statistic on the number of people in shelters is based on the number shelters report, but since many are at capacity, if their capacity declines, HUD assumes homelessness declined.[3] An undercount on the number of people sleeping unsheltered in public places exists because most people sleeping there are highly motivated not to be discovered. Many cities have it a crime to sleep in public places, and parents can have their children taken from them. 

According to The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 3.5 million families and individuals were homeless at some point in 2018.[4] Their estimate also only includes those sleeping in shelters and an undercount of those in public places.

Nearly 1.0 million schoolchildren lived with people outside their families in 2015–2016 because of housing loss or economic hardship. Forty-two thousand schoolchildren were living primarily on the street during the school year.[5]

Housing conditions in Kenya are among the most atrocious in the world. 61% of the urban population lives in slums.[6] In its capital, Nairobi, 60,000 children are homeless.[7] With a child population of 2.4 million, this makes the child homelessness rate 2.5%[8] ; in New Your City, it is 10%.[9] Although those who have a home in Nairobi are likely to have one of a far lower quality than those in NYC, a NYC child is four times as likely not to have a home than a child in the capital of impoverished Kenya. Kenya’s GDP per capita is $3,500; ours is 17 times larger.[10]

 

[1] https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/A939RX0Q048SBEA

[2] http://nlchp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/HOUSING-NOT-HANDCUFFS-2019-FINAL.pdf

[3] usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/16/homeless-problem-obama-america-recession-column/4539917/

[4] https://nlchp.org/history-mission/

[5] The State of the Nation’s Housing, 2018 The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

[6] https://www.habitat.org/where-we-build/kenya

[7] https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/fr/node/259893

[8] Based on Kenya’s 53% of population being children (https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Children/Study/RightHealth/KenyaNationalCommissionHR_2.pdf) and Nairobi’s population of 4,556,381.

[9] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/brooklyn/news/2019/10/29/one-in-10-nyc-public-school-students-are-homeless–report-says

[10] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2004rank.html

Existing Public Support for Housing Needs

Public support for the housing needs of low-income households comes mainly in the form of HUD’s “section 8” vouchers, which subsidize the market rent of private sector landlords for 2.2 million households. Also, 1.1 million households are in rent-subsidized public housing units.

Nineteen million households are eligible to receive federal rental assistance, but a small fraction of them receive it because federal housing programs are underfunded.[1] Applicants on waiting lists have a median wait time of 1.5 years; 25% have a wait of at least three years. 53% of the waiting lists for the Section 8 housing voucher program are closed to new applicants.[2] At least 1.6 million households are on waiting lists for public housing.[3]

The Section 8 housing voucher program is another example of policymakers acting on “the private sector is always more efficient than the public sector” myth. As a result, the vouchers contribute to the high profits of large numbers of private sector landlords. And the high profits lead to real estate price increases which further increases private sector rents.

HUD spent $20 billion in 2018 on Section 8 vouchers for 2.2 million households—an average subsidy per household of $9,081 per year or $757 per month.[4] We can use fewer public dollars to serve low-income households far better, as I will show.

 Policymakers created the Section 8 housing voucher program in 1974, claiming it would offer housing options to low-income families that were less racially and class segregated and safer than some public housing projects. The program commonly fails to achieve these aims. One reason is HUD bases its maximum rent subsidy on a flawed “Fair Market” rent calculation that often gives voucher-holders no choice but to live in similarly segregated or impoverished neighborhoods as the housing projects. HUD draws the line at the 40th percentile of rents for “typical” units occupied by “recent movers” in an entire metropolitan area, which includes far-flung suburbs with long commutes and areas of high crime.[5] As a result, “Fair Market Rents” are relatively low. For example, in New York City, HUD’s Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom was $1,249 in 2015.  This price relegated voucher-holders to high crime neighborhoods such as Brownsville in Brooklyn, one of the city’s most dangerous places, and where most public housing is located, or a far-away suburb where commutes are difficult, and a car is needed to live. [6]

Also, Section 8 program participants often live in poor quality housing and neighborhoods because too few landlords rent to voucher-holders. One study in Austin, Texas, found only 11% of the apartments within the Fair Market Rents of HUD would accept vouchers.[7] Landlords who refuse vouchers say they don’t want to deal with the paperwork, but the reason for most is their belief that Section 8 tenants might drive away racist high market-rate paying tenants. 53% of housing voucher recipients are minorities.[8]

Motivating the public funds transfer to Section 8 have been press reports on the public housing that fails to provide a safe and well-maintained environment. The reports have created the common misperception that public housing is necessarily dysfunctional. Although underfunding has caused many public housing projects to be poorly maintained, and they are often is located in poor quality neighborhoods with a lack of resources and services,[9] most of the 1.1 million households are satisfied with their public housing apartment.[10] Nearly all the nation’s more than 3,000 public housing authorities have waiting lists.

Public housing requires fewer public dollars than subsidized private sector housing, so it can be offered to low-income households at a lower cost, and it can be well-located and maintained. Public housing also offers residents greater permanency. And it can give the public, including residents, more ability to know and influence relevant policy decisions, such as what is a fair rent, when and how repairs or building alterations should be performed, and how to deal with residents’ financial or behavioral problems.

The most impressive demonstration that public housing can work well on a large scale and even significantly contribute to a nation’s prosperity is in Singapore. Anyone who sees public housing there has any myth they might hold dispelled that it is necessarily decrepit and crime-ridden. 80% of Singaporeans live in a government-built apartment, and the city commonly scores among the highest in livability rankings. Its $64,581 GDP per capita is 3.1% higher than the United States.[11]  These conditions are particularly impressive because prospects for Singapore’s survival were dim when it became independent in August 1965. A well-managed public sector, including public housing, helped create the conditions for its 56 times GDP per capita rise from $428 in 1960 to $64,581 in 2018.[12]

Many other examples of public housing having a significantly beneficial effect on societies exist in Europe. Vienna is probably the most outstanding example where nearly 60% of residents live in public housing, and the Austrian capital consistently ranks high in quality of life.[13]

 

[1] Urban Wire  Housing and Housing Finance The blog of the Urban Institute, One in four: America’s housing assistance lottery, Erika C. Poethig, 5/28/14

[2] https://nlihc.org/news/closed-waiting-lists-and-long-waits-await-those-seeking-affordable-housing-according-new-nlihc

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35913577

[4] https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/CFO/documents/FY%202019%20Congressional%20Justifications%20-%20Combined%20PDF%20-%20Updated.pdf

[5] The Atlantic, Section 8 was intended to help people escape poverty, but instead it’s trapping them in it, Alana Semuels, 6/24/15

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://hudapps.hud.gov/public/picj2ee/Mtcsrcr?category=rcr_familystatus&download=false&count=0 0

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-public-housing/2015/09/11/2e55a57e-57c9-11e5-abe9-27d53f250b11_story.html

[10] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/public-housing-success/406561/

[11] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=SG

[12] https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/PAP-06-2018-002/full/pdf?title=why-singapore-works-five-secrets-of-singapores-success

[13] https://www.marketplace.org/2021/05/03/in-vienna-public-housing-is-affordable-and-desirable/

The Housing Crisis Solution that Reduces Wealth Inequality

I propose a federal government program that each year makes 1,390,000 additional public housing apartments available by building 1,040,000 and purchasing preexisting buildings with a total of 350,000 apartments. (See endnote for how I chose these numbers)[1] In the first phase, we will make the additional public housing available to households in the lowest income quintile, initially those with young children.

(As I noted in Part 2, in making the policy proposals in this book, I often use the word “will” as in “we will” do something or something “will” occur instead “if this policy were instituted it would” or similar phrases to be optimistic and concise. The policies I propose will not accomplish anything unless widespread support and demands on policymakers to institute them exist. I have included a letter or script template and where to find your representatives’ email and mailing addresses to facilitate your advocacy for them at https://newenlightenment.us/contact-join/.   

The program will have participants building equity in their residences through their monthly payments. They will be part owners in partnership with the government.  While meeting the housing needs of many millions of households, it will increase their wealth. Also, I propose we convert the 1.1 million pre-existing public housing units to subsidized owner-occupancy.

When people have a stake in the value of their residence, they will maintain them well, and the equity they accumulate will empower them in the private market when they leave. Furthermore, we will offer owners/occupants some management control of their building. And we will give some say in the design of of apartments to be built to their prospective owners/occupants, which will involve no (or insignificant) additional cost. Partial ownership should involve some control, and these conditions will help ensure the success of public housing.

Studio and one through four-bedroom apartments will be available. Each size will have three to four floor plan options whose cost to implement will not differ significantly. When a household is approved for an apartment in a building to be constructed, it will choose its apartment’s floor plan from among the options. All will be standard, commonly desired floor plans, so this selection will not significantly limit the apartment’s desirability by future residents. It will, however, make the household that makes this choice appreciate the apartment’s good fit to their desires, and make it more likely they will behave beneficially toward it, the building, and the community.

Most new public housing will be six-story, 50-unit buildings. We will have three building designs of this size for each of the five U.S. climate zones.[2] Construction project managers and other HUD officials will choose from among them the best design fit for the circumstances. The six-story buildings would be a reasonable size for many locations in all metropolitan areas. (However, in parts of very high-density metropolitan areas with significantly above average land costs, some public housing may be built taller than six stories.)

Apartments will cost on average $137 per square foot to build, and the average apartment size will be 850 square feet.[3] Including the average urban land cost for a 50-unit apartment building, the cost per apartment will average $127,000. This estimate accounts for a $511,000 parcel, which a metropolitan land values study found is the average value of one acre of urban land.[4] The study included city business centers of very high value, so budgeting for this amount will allow siting in a good quality residential multi-family building zoned environments.[5] To reduce land costs for multifamily buildings, we will offer federal incentives totaling $1 billion to localities to eliminate single-family zoning restrictions where existing infrastructure or affordable infrastructure enhancements will allow multifamily buildings.  

Since the six-story, 50-unit building footprint is about 7,100 square feet, 36,500 square feet will remain on the acre parcel, some of which the residents could use for building residents’ food gardens or a recreational purpose such as a basketball court. For the highest-cost localities, buildings will be on smaller parcels, so less land will be available for these proposes, but siting criteria will enable residents to meet their needs.

Building site selection criteria include proximity to supermarkets with good produce and other food selections; parks and recreational facilities; educational institutions such as public community or higher-level colleges and K-12 schools; libraries; mass transit, businesses offering potential work opportunities, and neighborhoods with low crime rates. We will intersperse the buildings throughout the city instead of concentrating them in one massive housing “project.”

Since the program has participants with a stake in their home, they will also have one in their community, so they will act beneficially in relation to it. Home values in the vicinity of the buildings likely will rise due to spillover development effects.[6] So buildings dedicated to low-income households in this program are less likely to be objectionable to neighborhood residents than prior public housing.

We will build all new public housing to high energy efficiency standards. 25% of U.S. energy consumption is from the residential building sector, so we must reduce and sustainably supply energy to it toward the goal of zero total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the sector.[7]

Well-designed energy-efficient buildings can have lower life cycle costs (that include the cost of energy over the life of the building) than conventional buildings. For example, higher insulation levels, including for windows, cost more, but the resulting reduced heating and cooling system capacity and operational costs can more than compensate for the higher insulation level’s cost. White roofs add no or insignificant expense, and air conditioning equipment and energy cost savings are substantial. Multistory is a design feature that reduces energy consumption because no heat is transferred between living spaces on different floors. Higher initial costs for some energy-efficient buildings sometimes results from higher design cost, which would be insignificant if distributed over many thousands of buildings.[8]

One well-designed 150,000-square-foot, 90-unit apartment building in Minneapolis has 75% lower energy costs than conventional buildings while costing $144 per square foot to build.[9] Likely, additional cost reductions could have been achieved for the building.

Minimizing GHGs associated with a building’s use is complicated by the GHGs associated with the building materials. Although the use phase of buildings accounts for most GHG emissions throughout residential buildings’ life cycle, building materials play a significant role. Reducing a building’s use phase energy consumption can increase the GHG emission associated with its materials.

Extraction of raw materials or recycled materials; transportation and manufacture of components and products; transportation to site, and construction involve GHG emissions and other environmental impacts (termed “embodied” building costs). A building of the kind I propose would likely have less than 10% of its life cycle energy consumption embodied in its materials, not much more than conventional buildings, so they will substantially reduce GHG relative to them.[10]

It may also be beneficial to supply renewable energy for the buildings with equipment on site. But since this equipment choice depends on location and whether municipalities or regions will develop energy production from wind, hydro, geothermal, or solar for their area residents, I do not include a building energy source in my proposal.

 

[1] The average percent increase per year in the number of households over the last decade, now about 130 million, was roughly 1% (https://www.statista.com/statistics/183635/number-of-households-in-the-us/). The 1,040,000 built units per year is 80% of the 1,300,000 new households expected next year. 1,040,000 is a desirable number more than needed for new households in the bottom income quintile wanting an apartment to gradually satisfy pre-existing bottom 20% demand. When this demand is met, we will open the program to the second from the bottom income quintile households.

The 350,000 units purchased are about 20% of the multifamily units sold per year. Besides contributing to a more rapid satisfying of preexisting demand, these buys will moderate multifamily units price declines due to the newly built low-rent apartments added to the market per year, which will lower private sector rents. (Multifamily unit sales are about $175 billion per year (https://www.ngkf.com/storage/uploads/documents/2Q20_US-Multifamily-Capital-Markets-Report.pdf.) Assuming a $100,000 per unit yields 1.75 million units total; 20% is 350,000.)

[2] In some cases, larger buildings may be preferable but for the purposes of my analysis I assume the six-story, 50-unit  size. This size is desirable because it is more energy, land, and resource efficient than smaller buildings, which have more outside surface area per unit floor area and is not too large for most situations.

[3] HUD documents show that Section 202 Housing projects  cost an average of $88.12 per sq. ft. in 2005 (https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/hsgfin/costindices.html) and construction cost inflation from 2005 to 2019 was 50% (https://www.rsmeansonline.com/references/unit/refpdf/hci.pdf), which would result in a $132.12 cost in 2019. A standard construction industry cost estimating website R.S. means gives an estimate in 2019 of $152.02 per sq. ft. for a six story apartment building of the kind I propose (https://www.rsmeansonline.com/SquareFootEstimate/Index/RefreshPage). However, 7% of the $152.02 is for architectural services for one building. If this cost is distributed over many thousands of buildings this cost will be insignificant, reducing the estimate to $141per sq.ft.. HUD reported that its costs were 90.2% of RS means’ estimates which is about $137, the cost estimate I use. (https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/hsgfin/costindices.html). (Another commonly used construction cost estimating website, https://www.fixr.com/costs/build-apartment,  indicates $100 per sq. ft. could be a reasonable estimate.)

[4] A 50-unit apartment can be easily situated on an acre of land using six stories, with a useful amount remaining for recreational or other purposes. Land cost: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/11/the-staggering-value-of-urban-land/544706/

[5] http://davidalbouy.net/landvalue_index.pdf. Even in high land value cities, prices can fall sufficiently just ten miles from the city center. For example, just ten miles from Denver city center, land prices fall to about $410,000 per acre. Dallas, the fourth largest metropolitan area, has $275,000/acre land values ten miles from the city center. (Ibid. Table 2)

[6] Home values have increased in vicinities of multifamily housing developments funded through the Low Income

Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) where the projects were in high-income areas with greater than 50% minority populations and low-income areas. See https://web.stanford.edu/~diamondr/LIHTC_spillovers.pdf.  Based on the improved character of the housing program, and the growing consciousness of the irrationality and destructiveness of racism, it will likely be true for high income, less than 50% minority populations as well. https://web.stanford.edu/~diamondr/LIHTC_spillovers.pdf

[7] https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/mer.pdf Table 2.1 Energy Consumption by Sector

[8] http://www.josre.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Cost_of_LEED_Analysis_of_Construction_Costs-JOSRE_v3-13.pdf

[9] https://www.curbed.com/2015/9/25/9917588/the-rose-affordable-housing-living-building-challenge-minnepaolis

[10] https://cshub.mit.edu/sites/default/files/documents/LCAforResidentialBuildings.pdf

The Government and Resident Partnership

I propose that the federal government and the apartment residents each contribute to the monthly payments on a 30-year mortgage for the $127,000 average apartment cost based on the government’s cost of money—the 30-year treasury rate. At the time of writing, this rate was 2.47%, which I will round to 2.5%. The mortgage payment is $502 per month, and operating expenses are $350 per month, which is HUD’s current operating costs for public housing plus a $19 adjustment, for a total of $852 per month.[1] Households will pay 30% of their income to cover their portion of the mortgage payments and operating expenses.

The average income of the bottom quintile in 2017 was $13,258 per year or $1,105 per month; 30% is $331 per month.[2] $331 is 38.9% of the total of the mortgage and operating expenses. Applying this percentage to each of the two categories of costs yields an average resident contribution of $136 toward operating expenses and $195 toward the mortgage per month.

The average private-sector rent for a one-bedroom apartment in January 2017 was $906; for a two-bedroom, it was $1,039; for a three-bedroom, it was $1,211.  By January 2021, rents for a one-bedroom apartment rose to $953; for a two-bedroom, it was $1,093; for a three-bedroom, it was $1,274.[3] Most program participants’ reduced living costs will be a major economic stimulus; millions of Americans will have housing cost savings of several hundred dollars per month to spend elsewhere, including on better quality food. Also, the residents/owners will eventually spend most of the resulting wealth increase, which will increase employment to provide for the additional demand for services and goods.

When a resident vacates, the government will be in the role of an intermediary by purchasing the portion of the apartment the resident owns with the funds the resident paid to resell it to the new resident under the system’s terms. The government will pay back the resident’s accumulated equity at the end of occupancy or after 30 years, whichever comes first. If residents stay beyond the 30 years of the mortgage, after the government pays them their accumulated equity, they will then make monthly payments based on their income as new residents would. Or, stated differently, the government will buy the portion of the apartment the residents own with the funds the residents paid, then immediately sell it back under the terms that new residents would have.

The first month, the principal portion of the average resident’s $195 part of the mortgage payment is $92.  Each subsequent month this principal, or the amount that the resident’s equity increases, grows larger as the loan balance and interest decrease. If the resident-owner stays five years, their principal payment in the final month will be $104, and their accumulated equity will be $5,892. If the resident-owner stays the full 30 years, their principal payment in the final month will be $195, and their accumulated equity will be $49,407. This equity amount is not inflation-adjusted; however, residents are entitled to their principal payments being returned to them in real, inflation-adjusted dollars.

Assuming an inflation rate of 2%, for residents who maintain today’s average income in the bottom quintile throughout their residency and stay in their apartment for 30-years, the inflation-adjusted total will be $65,148; the five-year total would be $6,184.

The arrangement can be viewed as a mandatory savings program with the savings contributions increasing with time as the mortgage balance decreases.

We will adjust monthly payments every year based on the income shown on residents’ federal income tax forms. In most cases, residents’ income will increase over time, partly due to their improved living environment so  most will accumulate more equity than the above estimates. Before the scheduled annual adjustments, if a resident’s income drops so that payments would make the household unable to meet other basic needs, we will reduce their payment amount to make it affordable after receiving proof.

Residents stating lower than actual incomes will be disincentivized both by criminal penalties and the reduced equity the resident/owner will accumulate from the lower payments. For residents whose household income rises above the quintile that made them eligible for the apartment, it will eliminate their subsidy and not affect their eligibility.

Payment adjustments will make the labor and other costs involved with eviction be little to none for most apartment buildings, unlike in private market apartments. Behavioral problem evictions are also likely to be rare. Owner/occupants would not want to risk being forced into the private rental market where their cost of living will rise substantially, home environment quality will likely decline, and they will not build home equity. Furthermore, the costs involved in filling vacancies due to residents voluntarily moving will be low.

We will select from among the applicants a resident manager for each building who either has some relevant experience or be willing to take a short course on apartment building management and basic maintenance. For an apartment building of 50 units, the maintenance person and manager can be one full-time person.[4] Managers’ salaries will eliminate their subsidies.

Other residents will participate in the management of their building voluntarily. Voluntary semi-annual resident meetings will help set maintenance and other agendas for common space in addition to being resident community events for socializing.  They can decide on including a building residents’ food garden and on recreational purposes for about 36,000 square feet of available land.

 

[1] In 2018, HUD public housing operating expenses for 1.1 million units were $4.37 billion or $331 per month per unit, including repair, maintenance, and all other operating expenses. (https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/cfo/reports/fy19_CJ.) However, HUD’s massive repair cost backlog on public housing indicates insufficient budgeting for regular repairs and maintenance. According to a National Apartment Association “Survey of Operating Income & Expenses in Rental Apartment(s),” private sector apartments spend on average $0.54 per sq. ft. per year for repairs and maintenance. (https://www.naahq.org/news-publications/units/august-2016/article/2016-naa-survey-operating-income-expenses-rental).  Since an itemized accounting of HUDs repair and maintenance expentiures was not available, I assume HUD spent half this amount and add half to estimate operating expenditures for well-maintained buildings. For the 850 sq. ft. average apartment, this adds $19.19 to HUDs $331 prior cost per month per unit, totaling $350.19 or about $350.  

[2] US Census, Table H-3.  Mean Household Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent, All Races:  1967 to 2017.
I wrote this policy in 2020 when this income data was the most recent available.                                                                                                

[3] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1063502/average-monthly-apartment-rent-usa/

[4] http://wreninvestment.com/2012/08/apartment-complex-site-staffing/ The manager may be a half time job.

The Pandemic and a Flexible Housing Payment System

The Covid-19 pandemic revealed on a massive scale the vital importance of a housing payment system based on income. By early May 2020, at least 34 million Americans lost their employment income due to the pandemic.[1] The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARE”) Act provided financial support insufficient for many to afford their rent, so many faced eviction in the midst of the pandemic. The CARE act also required landlords to offer a rent moratorium but only those whose properties were involved in federal housing programs or had federally backed mortgage loans, which qualified only about 25% of tenants. Unless a landlord volunteered the information, tenants were unlikely to know if they qualified for the moratorium, and even when they did qualify, ignoring the law, some landlords served tenants eviction notices when they did not pay their rent.[2] An April 2020 Marketplace-Edison Research Poll found that about 50% of renters feared by “a lot” not being able to pay their rent.[3]

Under normal circumstances, homelessness can harm physical and mental health. But during the pandemic, the harm was more likely and more likely to be grave. Evicted families end up in homeless shelters where people eat and sleep right next to each other—the opposite of social distancing. In April 2020, 40% of America’s homeless were infected with Covid-19, threatening everyone.[4] The more people infected in any group, without strict isolation, the more extensive the virus’s spread in the general population is likely to be.

The eviction moratorium was not rent forgiveness. When tenants took advantage of it, they owed the delayed rent. After the moratorium expires on June 30, 2021, current and back rent is due, and some may not be able to pay it and then be evicted. A Census Bureau survey from June 23 to July 5, 2021 found that over 7.4 million Americans were not current on rental payments. About half of them said it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” they will be evicted over the following two months.

 

[1]https://www.npr.org/2020/05/07/851826548/data-sharpen-focus-on-how-many-workers-lost-jobs-to-covid-19

[2] https://www.propublica.org/article/despite-federal-ban-landlords-are-still-moving-to-evict-people-during-the-pandemic

[3] https://www.marketplace.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Edison-poll-data-pt.-1.pdf

[4] https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/12/might-the-pandemic-be-a-lifeline-for-the-rich-worlds-homeless

Government Costs

Most of the residents will have moved from unstable, problematic housing. For some, their home’s environment significantly disadvantaged them in their efforts to increase their income. The stable, good quality home and environment this policy will provide will facilitate income increases, so government subsidy costs will significantly decline with time. However, I will assume that incomes remain the same each year to determine maximum costs for the program.

The government’s expenses per unit will average $521 per month ($852 total expenses minus the $331 average resident’s contribution). The current Section 8 cost average per household of $757 per month is 45% higher. In 30 years, when the mortgage is paid, the government’s expense per unit drops to just $214 per month, its share of the $350 operating expenses. Section 8 expenses are 254% higher.

The cost in the first year for the program will be $6.5 billion for the newly built units, $2.0 billion for the purchased units.[1] In the program’s first phase, costs will increase by this amount each year as buildings are built and purchased. The federal subsidy expenditure for the 1.1 million pre-existing public housing units’ for owner occupancy would be $1.8 billion per year.[2]

An added expense in the first year will be $54 billion needed for backlogged maintenance and repair of public housing.[3] On average, 10,000 units per year are removed from service due to poor conditions. Inadequate maintenance is slowly destroying our existing public housing stock.[4]

I propose that when the waiting list of households in the lowest income quintile drops to near zero in a region, we expand the program to the second from the bottom quintile. Federal government subsidy costs for the second quintile will be much lower; most owners/occupants will not need any subsidies. At this point, the maximum program cost would occur if all newly formed households per year in the bottom quintile per year, estimated to be 260,000, received an apartment.  In this case, the subsidy total for the 1,130,000 households in the second quintile that receive the remaining newly available apartments per year will be only $51 million, and for the 260,000 lowest income quintile, $1.58 billion.[5] Each year program costs will increase by a maximum of the sum, $1.64 billion, until the waiting list of households in the lowest two income quintile drops to near zero. Then we will open the program up to the third from the bottom income quintile. This quintile will not need or receive government funds.

Federal agents will make the land selections for the new buildings and select the preexisting buildings for purchase. The annual salary for these agents and inspectors will be about $82 million, an insignificant fraction of program costs.[6]

We can source federal revenues for the program by eliminating the income tax deduction for mortgage interest. The deduction has always been an unwise tax policy because it is regressive. Although the 2017 tax reform reduced the massive tax loss from the deduction, it made the tax even more regressive. The reform reduced its cost from about $60 billion to $30 billion a year. But in 2018, households in the top 1% of the income distribution received almost 17% of the benefits, and the top 20% received 80%. The middle-income quintile only received 4%.[7]

The mortgage interest deduction also needs to end because:

  • It harms low- and middle-income earners by driving up house prices, making homeownership less attainable. That’s because tax benefits are “capitalized” into house prices, pushing them about 4% higher than they otherwise would be. As a result, it reduced the homeownership rate by about 5%.[8]
  • It encourages building more expensive homes that are larger and more energy-consuming.[9]
  • Enabling people to finance homes with debt increases the likelihood of loan defaults when house prices drop, especially during economic downturns. Mortgage balances average about 30% higher than they would be without the mortgage interest deduction.[10]

Also, eliminating a substantial fraction of the $1.03 trillion annual costs of child poverty will more than cover the cost of the program.

If we instituted my EITC policy proposal or my policy proposal for the widespread establishment of worker-owned and self-directed business enterprises, the government’s cost of my low-income housing proposal would drop to near zero because everyone working would have an income above the maximum income subsidized. Almost all households will have workers since these policies will likely increase the labor force participation rate to historic highs.

[1] This estimate assumes the average cost of a purchased apartment building has depreciated to 90% of the cost of the building if newly built. 

[2] The estimate assumes all public housing residents are in the bottom income quintile but since a small percentage are not, government costs will be slightly less. The current public housing average monthly rent is $369 (https://pic.hud.gov/pic/RCRPublic/rcrmain.asp) so the government will have a loss of $38/mo. or $456/yr. relative to the $331/mo. resident payments. However, the government will return to residents their accumulated  equity upon vacating or after 30 years that it currently does not. Over the period from 1995 through 2015 the average length of stay for a public housing tenant was 5.6 years (https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/LengthofStay.pdf). Assuming the proposed program benefits will about double this average length of stay to 11 years, on average  $12,541 of inflation adjusted equity will be given to tenants every 11 years, which averages $1,140 per year. In total, the government will have a loss relative to current public housing financial arrangements of $1,596/yr per unit or $1.76 billion/yr. for all 1,100,000 units.                   

[3] https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/many-new-bills-bring-national-attention-urgent-public-housing-needs

[4] https://nlihc.org/resource/public-housing-where-do-we-stand

[5] The second quintile income range was $24,638 to $47,100 per year or $2,053 to $3,926 per month; 30% of which is $616 to $1,178. The $852 per month for a newly constructed apartment or $802 per month for an apartment purchased by the government under the program is slightly over the lowest income “affordability” limit. About 60% of households in the second quintile will receive no subsidy.

[6] All inspectors’ pay nationwide will be roughly $20 million per year. This assumes the number of units/building is 50, which requires 20,800 buildings; one inspection per day per inspector; four inspections per building over the course of the year period to complete a building; and a salary of $59,700 per year for each inspector. (Building time: http://eyeonhousing.org/2015/08/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-an-apartment-building/. Salary: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-and-building-inspectors.htm) The site selection process will cost about $37 million per year. This assumes a 1.5 week process per building site and a salary the same as for the building inspectors. The building selection process will cost about $25 million per year.

[7] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2017/11/06/its-time-to-gut-the-mortgage-interest-deduction/

[8] https://www.stlouisfed.org/open-vault/2018/may/why-economists-dont-like-mortgage-interest-deduction

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 189-199 of its 531 pages. (Published 2017). The excerpt is 3,475 words. The next subject is at this link “Eliminate Gerrymandering”

Provide Free College Education

We have in the past had very low or no tuition for everyone meeting admission requirements to public colleges, and no resource shortage exists now to do so. Our nation is wealthier than it has ever been.

Several countries require little or no tuition for a college education. In Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Mexico, public colleges and universities are free. In Denmark, not only is college tuition-free, college students actually get paid. In Germany, the public colleges are free not only for Germans but also for international students, which is why every year more than 4,500 students from the United States enroll in German universities.[1]  Some of these countries have among the best educational outcomes in the world. These countries’ policymakers have had the vision to see the importance of having a well-educated citizenry so they have essentially removed financial barriers to a college education.

Education not only benefits society by creating a workforce that creates wealth, pays taxes, and needs fewer government services. It also allows people to be more informed and effective participants in a functional democracy. A national investment to provide free college education is well worth the cost.

Higher education in an authoritarian, undemocratic country needs only to cultivate obedient and productive workers. As a democracy, we depend on a knowledgeable, public-spirited, and engaged population. Increasingly, we are losing sight of this fundamental truth. Higher education has a vital role to play in the renewal of U.S. democracy.

Many United States students avoid pursuing a college education for financial reasons. A national survey by Northeastern University found that 67% of students born in the mid-1990s or later are concerned about being able to afford college. And many who overcome the disincentive of the high cost will have their college loan payment as a substantial burden on their finances for many years. Due to the poor job market and declining wages, many will never be able to pay back those loans. The national student loan default rate is about 14% per year.

The average student debt load for the class of 2012 is $29,400, and student debt totals over $1.2 trillion.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 10% of all debt in the U.S. is in student loans, second only to mortgages, and more than the total national credit card debt. To burden millions of students with often overwhelming debt is unjust and unwise. Our society should support education as an investment that pays large dividends.

The number of people who have made and are making decisions not to get post-secondary education for financial reasons is not known. But it is likely large enough to have a significantly detrimental impact on our economy and democracy far into the future. Internationally, the United States ranks twelfth in the percentage of young people with college degrees, an area where we once led the world. South Korea now has taken the global lead. Over 60% of its citizens under age 34 in 2009 earned a degree, while the U.S. had only 40%. Fewer than 60% who start college finish with degrees in the U.S., often for financial reasons.

 

Enhancing Civic and Economic Functioning

Too few postsecondary institutions offer programs that prepare students to engage the questions Americans face as the world’s most powerful democracy. Civic learning and democratic process engagement should be an educational priority for all higher education institutions, public and private, two-year and four-year. Writing ability and science literacy is not optional for college graduates, nor should civic learning be.

All graduates should have familiarity with the branches of government and with basic information about U.S. history, including the historical and sociological understanding of several social movements and debates about democracy, both in the U.S. and abroad. Cultivating the ability to think critically and collaborate with people of differing views and backgrounds to resolve complex public issues based on shared values of liberty, justice, ethical integrity, equality and empathy must be an essential objective of all colleges. Experience with the group deliberative process at the foundation of New Enlightenment Policy 28 should be a part of core college curriculum.

An interesting and important basic difference between the 18th century and the 21st century was the degree of what might be called “social consciousness.” A feeling of obligation to society was prevalent then. People of the Enlightenment era believed that shared beliefs were important and public life mattered more than one’s private life. Also, people of the Enlightenment believed that a well-defined code of manners and behavior was necessary to allow men to live in harmonious groups. These are ideals worthy of the effort to reestablish and extend to all groups, not just white men as in the Age of Enlightenment, so we are all part of a harmonious human family, and our colleges could play a major role in this.

Also, to facilitate creating a more democratically structured economy primarily comprised of worker self-directed enterprises, basic skills and knowledge needed for cooperative business enterprise management and direction should be acquired by all two and four-year college students.

Basic understanding of law pertaining to the relatively more common contingencies of personal and business life should also be included in core college curricula. Knowing the relevant rules of our society is important. It is of particular importance to know our legal rights and how to protect them. For example, millions of people since the start of the financial crisis were thrown out of their homes or apartments, despite the fact that legal protections existed that could have stopped the process if they knew of them. Often people cannot afford a lawyer or do not know that one would be helpful in their circumstances. Basic legal self-defense, as part of other commonly relevant law coursework, should be part of core curricula.

The tendency for the rate of growth of wealth to be larger than the rate of growth of the economy and labor income is a powerful force of divergence that will continue to create widening inequality unless interrupted with vigorous policy solutions. But forces of convergence also exist. An important one is the diffusion of knowledge and skills. This force is being diminished while the forces of divergence are increasing because barriers to education are being erected. The New Enlightenment policy will eliminate financial barriers to a college education as an important way of enhancing a force of convergence, while also improving national economic performance.

The Harvard Business School’s 2013–14 Survey on U.S. Competitiveness report “An Economy Doing Half Its Job” states, “Skills shortages make it hard for firms operating in the United States to increase their productivity consistently, the major driver in sustaining their ability to compete and raising their capacity to pay workers. Thus, skills issues are at the heart of the aspect of U.S. competitiveness that worries us the most: the stagnation of living standards among most Americans.” About 52% of U.S. employers reported difficulty in filling positions due to skills deficiencies in applicants with “lack of technical skills” among the top causes.

On average, the higher a person’s educational attainment, the lower the likelihood of being unemployed and the higher the income, as the following table shows. Note that the graph shows educational attainment has been growing in importance. Gallup’s polling data revealed that 72% of the top 1% wealthiest Americans have a college degree, compared to 31% of those in the bottom 99%.

Although most jobs filled over the previous decade were filled by workers who did not have bachelor’s degrees, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that to continue, its projections assume that the educational characteristics of occupations will not change.

High-paying occupations sometimes only require training that has included a few college courses, an associate degree, apprenticeship programs, or vocational classes at a technical school. But when an occupation includes workers with different levels of education, workers with more education often can better compete for jobs, and more jobs are likely to require a degree in the future. This is particularly true if the occupations require academic skills, such as mathematics or science.

Healthcare occupations are expected to be among the fastest growing and highest paying (in most categories) in the economy, and most require a college degree. For some that do not, such as health aide and nursing aide, it may be beneficial to require a two-year degree to prepare for their work. Home health aides and nursing aides now typically have much less education.

Due to greater interaction through easier travel, communications and global trade, the field of international studies and relations, including the study of languages, will be a part of postsecondary education of large and growing importance. Knowledge in all subject areas has increased substantially and will continue to since free high school education was instituted. A college education allows a similar level of competence in dealing with the knowledge of importance in the contemporary world as a high school education did decades ago.

Earnings and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment

Basic knowledge of the sciences is especially important since science is the foundation for understanding our world. With scientific knowledge we have some power to predict and control our environment. Science is involved in choosing what to eat, how to best protect and improve our health in other ways, and how to best protect and enhance the quality of our environment. The world has changed in such a way that science literacy has become necessary for everyone, not just a privileged few. Scientific literacy is also important because as Charles Darwin put it, “there is grandeur in this view of life.”

Widespread scientific literacy is important within a citizenry that participates in decisions (or selects representative that do so) on the levels of public funding for basic research and where basic research public funds should be spent and on other significant public policy decisions. Public spending on basic research has been and will continue to be of major importance in productivity advancements. The nature of business requires that their research funds are focused on areas likely to bring useful results in the short term. Only government can have the long-term horizon in view when making research investment decisions. The long-term returns of these investments have historically been very large, between 30% and 100% or more.

Harmful public policies based on ignorance of science, such as those influencing action on climate change, would be less common if the voting public had a better understanding of the tremendous explanatory power of the natural sciences.

Also, postsecondary education in the sciences, in addition to extending knowledge, reinforces knowledge previously learned, enabling more people to better participate in the education and stimulation of the interest of children in these fields, which could help motivate future professional interest. This will help meet the increasing demand for technically skilled workers and contributes to the process that will lead to future scientific advancements, which will allow the productivity advancements of great importance to the future of the country and the world. If properly managed, productivity advancements will enable further reductions in work-hours, and help lift more people out of poverty worldwide.

World knowledge is now doubling about every two years, and the rate of increase is increasing. Among the most important skills that a college education develops are research and independent learning skills needed for a lifetime of learning in many occupations, and for full democratic participation.

College also serves a secondary societal purpose of delaying workforce entry where there are high levels of unemployment. Fewer jobs are needed to satisfy the employment requirements of a smaller workforce. If all students in college were instead added to the number of people looking for work, the unemployment rate would more than double.

Some Necessary Policies to Reduce College Costs

An important cause of the large increase in college costs over the last few decades is a disproportionately large increase in the number of administrative staff, and in the pay of higher level administrative staff.  It is not uncommon now for schools to have more administrators than faculty members. Reducing administrative costs and bureaucracy should be part of any university reform.

Just five years ago, $500,000 was a high salary for a university president. Today, a growing number make $1 million or more, and the average salary is $421,395. In 2011, most public-college presidents earned between two and four times the average salary of their full professors. Some made much more. Chief financial officers of universities who made $175,000 five years ago often make $300,000 or more today.

University administrators argue that their salaries must be competitive with private sector salaries. But universities offer benefits including higher job security that are not available in the private sector, and for decades could attract very competent administrators for salaries far lower than they are today. Also, the explosion in top salaries in the private sector is part of an unjust trend in our economy that the public sector should avoid further supporting with tax dollars to a public sector economic elite. The funds can be much more effectively used to serve the essential functions of colleges.

The rapid rise in administrative staffs has resulted in a decline in employee productivity. We can measure administrative staff productivity in two ways: (1) students per administrative employee, and (2) degrees awarded per administrative employee. Regarding enrollment, administrative employee productivity in the non-profit sectors declined by between 23.2% and 27.6% between 1987 and 2007. With regard to the number of degrees awarded, administrative employee productivity in the non-profit sectors fell by between 15.8% and 19.1% between 1987 and 2007. College and university administrators decide the number of staff, and it’s clear that they love to hire people like themselves who can reduce their workload while they expand their empires.

A 25% reduction in administrative and support staff is achievable based on historical experience and on the fact that the bursar’s office personnel will no longer be necessary for collecting tuition. This will result in a saving of $3.7 billion per year. These substantial savings colleges could use for whatever instructional purpose they determine to be in the best interest of their current students, to save for future instructional purposes, or to contribute to the elimination of tuition in public colleges that have higher than the average tuition of $8,646 federally granted per student.

Publicly funded institutions should decide on the pay of administrators based on the best interests of the public, not the administrators, as the trend has been. We will limit the salary of the highest paid administrator, typically the college president, to whichever is greater, the 50th percentile of the faculty salaries or the percentile of the faculty salaries equivalent to the college’s percentile of enrollment compared to all colleges. For example: If the college has enrollment greater than 60% of all public colleges, the salary of the college president would be limited to a salary at the 60th percentile of the faculty salaries. 

The size of the college, to a degree, relates to the level of responsibilities of the college president, but larger colleges typically satisfy any excess responsibilities with varying numbers of vice presidents or other administrators, depending on college size. All other high paid administrators’ salaries would also be reduced in an appropriate relation to that of the college president.

If current administrators decide this change is unacceptable, many other qualified candidates could administer a college at these salaries. Students working part-time could fill many administrative positions, and faculty on temporary leave from teaching duties could fill higher level ones, as was not uncommon decades ago. Other capable people could also be found for this level of pay. Administrative duties are far less intellectually demanding than the duties of faculty and require far less training to perform.

The college president salary limits we propose are maximums only, not recommended salaries. The faculty performs the essential function of colleges which should focus their resources on their essential function, education, not building dynasties with unreasonably high paid leaders at the top. Although pay of top administrators would be cut by as much as 80% or more in some cases, upper mid-level administrators’ pay would be cut less, and mid- and lower-level not at all. If overall savings in administrative pay averaged 20%, the resulting saving colleges could redirect to educational purposes is about $2.2 billion. In total, the administrative cost saving will be about $5.9 billion per year that colleges could redirect to instructional purposes.

Full Public Support for the Costs of College Education

Public universities had 13.35 million students in 2012-2013 with an average tuition of $8,646. The total tuition paid was $115 billion. The American Association of Community Colleges fact sheet states that total tuition paid to community colleges in 2013 was about $9.8 billion, with an average tuition of $3,300. New Enlightenment policy will make college education free to qualified students. We will give direct federal grants to public four-year colleges of $8,646, and to public two-year colleges, $3,300 per student per year under these conditions:

  1. The college eliminates tuition for all students meeting admission requirements.
  2. Administrative staff is reduced by 25 percent.
  3. The salary of the highest paid administrator, the college president, is limited to whichever is greater, the 50th percentile of the faculty salaries or the percentile of the faculty salaries equivalent to the college’s percentile of enrollment compared to all colleges.
  4. Civic learning and engagement with democratic processes, including those within WSDEs, coursework is required for graduation. 

Conditions 2 and 3 could be satisfied by using a proportional three-year phase-in period.

Current college scholarship granting agencies will be able to redirect all scholarship money to private colleges that in the past supported public college student tuition. The probability and size of scholarships to students wanting to attend a private college will then be substantially larger when we institute this free public college policy.

At current enrollment levels, the total increase in federal funding for college education would be $125 billion. However, this policy will result in more students enrolling in college, and we will budget for a 10% increase requiring about $138 billion.

We will not decrease funding for the federal Pell Grant award and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, which totaled about $39 billion in fiscal year 2012. We will direct these funds to the support of book and living expenses for students in public universities based on income guidelines.

Our university system has been the best in the world, one of the drivers of American prosperity. We will ensure that it remains excellent and unsurpassed in quality by supporting with federal funds an 80/20 federal/state sharing of expenses in additional facilities that the individual states determine worthy of state funds to improve instruction or research capabilities.

Arizona State University president, Michael M. Crow, estimated a need for a one-time $45 billion investment in public university infrastructure nationwide. In 2008, he recommended that this expenditure be part of a stimulus package, and only $2 billion was budgeted and spent over two years for this purpose.[i] We will support 80% of the remaining college infrastructure upgrade expenditure over ten years with federal dollars. $3.5 billion per year we will budget for this purpose within our $300 billion annual infrastructure/public works budget.

Considerable potential exists for increasing educational efficiency or lowering the costs per student for the same or better level of education through new techniques, including the use of computers and the Internet. We will encourage innovative techniques as follows:

The federal grant amount per student will remain the same independent of efficiency improvements so any efficiency improvements the states make they will benefit from. They could use the saved funds for any other purposes. Student and faculty satisfaction rates with any educational reforms will be the most important determinant of the value of the reform.

Also, after a three-year period based on in-depth studies of student and faculty satisfaction rates with any educational reforms nationwide, the most effective will be selected for national use, and any performing poorly will be eliminated. Standardized tests will be a part of this process, but will not be the primary criterion because of the problem of motivating excessive resources to “teach to the test,” and test results are often not a good measure of capacity or value received from the educational experience. This analysis will likely lead to national educational efficiency improvements.

[i] Federal Investment in Public University Infrastructure to Stimulate the Economy, Increase Bachelor’s Degree Attainment in the Workforce, and Enhance National Competitiveness December 2008, Michael M. Crow, President, Arizona State University

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 295-297.  It is 757 words. The next subject is Community Broadband.

Eliminate Gerrymandering

In a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. In the United States, to a shocking degree, it is the other way around. For example, the Republican controlled Florida legislature created election district map resulted in the election of 17 Republican and 10 Democratic congressional representatives in 2012, a 70% advantage for Republicans. But in Florida, 4.2 million are registered Republicans and 4.7 million, Democrats, a 12% advantage for Democrats. The map was skillfully designed to avoid a democratic (and Democratic) outcome to favor Republicans.

To accomplish this, district boundaries are bizarre. Florida’s 22nd District is 90 miles long and never over 3 miles wide. Other districts look like donuts, embryos or Rorschach tests.  Most other states, including those with Democrats in control, draw similarly bizarre partisan boundaries, but overall Republicans have benefited most from this anti-democratic practice. Democrats won 1.4 million more votes for U.S. congressional representatives than Republicans in 2012, yet Republicans had a 33 seat advantage, mainly because of Republican gerrymandering following the 2010 census.

The problem has gotten more extreme recently since the Census Bureau puts out digitized maps, called TIGER/Line files. New geographic information systems for mapping and analyzing demographic data cost only a few thousand dollars, work on ordinary Windows operating systems, and can draw up partisan maps automatically. This has turned gerrymandering from an art into a science.

Gerrymandering is one reason an already change resistant Congress is even more immutable. Only 23, or 5%, of sitting congressmen were defeated in the general election in 2012. The combination of larger numbers of gerrymandered safe seats and the need for candidates to have increasing enormous amounts of cash for their election campaigns is undermining our democracy. House incumbents on average outspend challengers by five to one. If they can make their election more certain by using party operatives in their state to redraw boundaries favoring their election, they further ensure their reelection. This is another reason we have the lowest voter turnout in the developed world. Also, gerrymandering is resulting in a more polarized Congress since districts are more polarized—an important cause of congressional gridlock.

All countries, in the interests of equal representation, periodically adjust their electoral boundaries to reflect population changes, but no other country allows the process to be abused to instead grotesquely violate democratic principles.

We propose to eliminate gerrymandering and have fair and rational redistricting procedure be the national standard. The most important criterion will be minimizing the sum of the perimeters of all districts because this would create the most compact districts. However, county and city boundaries and other criteria may warrant consideration also. We consider these criteria less important than compactness; however, we propose allowing criteria other than compactness to be considered.

In each state, we will use a contest where participants will submit redistricting proposals, with the winner having the lowest sum of perimeters, while also including other factors they consider important or desirable. Contestants can be any political party, qualified public interest group, and the political sciences department of public universities in the state that choose to participate. We would provide the best software for assisting in the redistricting process to participating political sciences departments, which any political party or qualified public interest group could also access if it chose not to spend its funds to purchase its own. 

If a submitted proposal is gerrymandered or deviates from compactness too much, it will be outcompeted by more compact proposals. Each group has an incentive to come close to a maximally compact partition while including deviations it considers appropriate. If a group chooses the minimum perimeter without other considerations, just to maintain its reputation it would have to justify this to other members of their organization and the public. Even if some consider maximally compact partitions not optimal, they would be far superior to what typically exists, and the process will not favor any group, including party.

The option of a nonpartisan commission creating district boundaries also exists, but the conflicts in selecting commission members that all will agree are nonpartisan will sometimes be difficult to resolve, so the method proposed is likely a better option. 

To eliminate gerrymandering and to achieve more legislative diversity and other public interest goals, multimember districts with proportional representation we should consider eventually. This would be a more radical reform that we do not advocate for now, except to advocate for its more widespread consideration and debate as a possible reform after we have the government of, for, and by the people resulting from the New Enlightenment reforms.

 

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 386-389. The excerpt is 1,065 words. The next subject is : Community Radio

Community Broadband

Some communities are setting up “community broadband” networks or high-speed Internet networks. Community broadband networks offer lower costs for the same or higher speeds than the telecom giants offer, whose rates are far above international norms, and in some communities telecom companies do not offer broadband.

Since the communication and information transfer capabilities of the Internet are vast, free community broadband will greatly enhance the ability of everyone, of all economic statuses, to be well informed on public policy issues (and many other subjects), and to participate actively in our democracy. It will also be of substantial economic importance, especially for the poor, so it will help reduce inequality.  We propose a national policy supporting free community broadband.

The New America Foundation compared high-speed Internet for various download and upload speed offerings, and other telecom services, in 22 cities around the world by price. They found that our international counterparts offer much lower prices and faster Internet service.

They compared “triple play” offerings that combine Internet, phone, and television services and found that consumers in Paris can purchase a 100 Mbps bundle of television, telephone, and high-speed Internet service for the equivalent of approximately $35. In the least expensive American city, Lafayette, LA, a package with just 6 Mbps costs around $65. In the U.S., the best deal for a 150 Mbps home broadband connection from cable and phone companies is $130/month.  The international cities surveyed offer comparable speeds mostly for about $50/month. In Seoul, South Korea, triple play costs $15 per month for 10 Mbps. For mobile broadband, $30 is the lowest price for 2 GB of data in the U.S., twice as much as what users in London pay. Residents of Hong Kong have access to Internet service with download and upload speeds of 500 Mbps for the equivalent price that residents of New York City and Washington, D.C. pay for maximum download speeds 1/20 as fast and upload speeds 1/250 as fast (downloads up to 25 Mbps and uploads up to 2 Mbps).

An OECD study found that the U.S. pays about 23 times the average Mbps cost of broadband service as Denmark, and about 20 times that in Korea and the U.K.[i] Most of the countries studied have much higher levels of competition.

In 2014, over 80% of Americans had no choice but one cable company for high-speed Internet.[ii] With no competition, no incentive exists to lay higher capacity fiber lines, or charge a fair price. Our much higher prices and lower connectivity speeds result from monopoly and semi-monopoly power. However, the solution is not necessarily more competition. Infrastructure is best provided publicly (although associated services could be well supplied privately).

A Harvard Business School 2013–14 survey report on U.S. competitiveness, An Economy Doing Half Its Job, stated that businesses “support for universal broadband connectivity was consistent across firm sizes. High-speed networks are increasingly essential to the ability of all enterprises to be competitive.” Our high prices, low connectivity speeds and lack of availability in some communities are significantly harming our economy and ability to compete internationally.

Community wireless uses unlicensed space on the public airwaves to provide dependable high-speed Internet connections, without the high cost and hassle of traditional phone and cable wires. This technology has the potential to revolutionize how we create, distribute, and access information, facilitating the transition to a new, truly democratic government. As much as 70% of the broadcast TV spectrum in some markets is sitting unused because of regulations and a misinformation campaign waged by the broadcasters’ lobby that we could use for this purpose.[iii]

As a result of intense lobbying by, and campaign contributions from, Internet providers and cable and telephone companies, several states have passed laws that prohibit municipal governments from setting up community broadband networks. New Enlightenment policy will affirm the rights of all municipalities to establish broadband networks and support their establishment, and we will make the best use of the unused spectrum. We will also federally support fiber supplied broadband or any combination of wireless and fiber.

Cities that supply utility services can more easily use existing conduit for fiber, which minimizes the cost of installing fiber lines. New Enlightenment policy will establish national eminent domain laws to facilitate existing conduit use for all cities. The purchase of any existing fiber lines from current providers we will also support if the cost is below that of newly installed lines. We will provide consultants to assist cities in the establishment phase of providing telecommunication services to their city residents.

New Enlightenment policy offers grants to cities of $175 per capita in the planned municipal broadband service area for municipalities to set up broadband that is free to users and supported by general funds. If all cities took advantage of this policy, the federal subsidies would cost $55.5 billion. We will grant this amount over a five-year period, or $11.1 billion per year.

We will also offer zero interest rate 20-year loans from the Commonwealth Bank to supply any additional funds needed for municipalities to set up broadband that is free to users. The loan agreement will require that the funds for the broadband services be raised by a progressive income tax, determined as follows: The tax will be the fraction of the federal income tax needed to support the loan. Taxpayers would just multiply their federal tax by this fraction for their payment to the city. (So all taxpayers with less than $50,000 in income would pay no tax.) Any overestimate or underestimate in the fraction necessary to cover the cost will be compensated for by adjusting the fraction the following year.

A city income tax, once considered a novelty, now provides substantial revenue in over 170 municipalities, including 21 cities with a population of at least 100,000. More than 18 million people live in cities that impose an income tax.[iv] All cities should use a progressive income tax of this type, rather than sales taxes, as a fairer and more economically beneficial way to raise funds for all purposes.

Communities that offer free high-speed Internet will experience significant economic stimulus. In the modern era, access to free high-speed Internet is almost as economically important as access to free roadways.

[i] OECD Communications Outlook 2013 http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/comms_outlook-2013-en

[ii] Saving Capitalism. Robert Reich, pg. 32

[iii] New America Foundation, Measuring the TV “White Space” Available for Unlicensed Wireless Broadband, 1/5/06

[iv] http://taxfoundation.org/article/city-income-taxes

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 389-390. It is 347 words.

Community Radio

The cost of establishing a community radio station can be as little as $10,000 if volunteer labor is used in setting up the studio and transmission equipment. New Enlightenment policy will offer two $10,000 grants to each of the 601 cities with over 50,000 population for the establishment of community radio stations, with $5,000 per year operating grants. Stations could not use operating grants for salaries. Volunteer labor to support the station’s programming will be a grant requirement. (Specialized labor for short periods such as for equipment repair could be paid.)  

Any costs over $10,000 for establishment, and $5,000 annual operational costs will continue to need community funding, but these grants will greatly facilitate the start-up and operation of a station by community groups of small means. This will help grassroots organizations strengthen their communities and improve their governments.

Any group of ten people could offer a 5,000-word maximum statement of purpose and policy guideline description on a city website. Community members voting for their top three choices and an instant runoff voting process will determine the grant winners. At least one of the stations will devote all airtime to public issues. The other could have a cultural, scientific or another educational purpose not necessarily directly related to public policy. In either case, democratic processes will determine citizen access to the station’s airwaves. Possibly a citizen elected board of directors can make the determinations, or perhaps internet based citizen voting could be used.

Community radio enables community members and groups to inform their communities on issues of concern to them, to share experiences, and become creators and contributors to media.

In some markets, lack of availability of spectrum may limit additional stations, so the grants not used in these markets we will make available to other cities, in order of highest population first.

This policy will require a one-time expenditure of $12 million, and an annual expenditure of $6 million, an insignificant amount of money compared to the value provided by 1,202 community radio stations that this policy will play an important role in establishing and supporting.

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 224-228 (published 2017). 1,586 word excerpt. Next subject is “Increase Social Security Payments: Social Security Plus

Reduce Military Spending

The United States spends far more than any other country on defense and security. Since 2001, the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion, without even counting the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which raised the total to $718 billion. This does not include the $127 billion of benefits for the veterans.

One Trident nuclear submarine could destroy 200 cities around the world with its multiple warheads before reloading. We have 18 of these submarines, each of which overwhelmingly deters any military attack. They can remain submerged for long periods without surfacing, are virtually undetectable when submerged, and are the nation’s most survivable nuclear strike capability.  Of course, these submarines represent a very tiny fraction of our military capabilities.

Using a nuclear weapon in a world where nine countries possess approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons, though, risks an unintended consequence: destroying most of the life on the planet.[1] (But it is mad to continue to rely on MAD (mutually assured destruction) to save us from this fate.)

President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address, warning the American people about the “military-industrial-complex” originally was a warning about the “military-industrial congressional complex.” The “congressional” part was dropped because Eisenhower prided himself on the strength of his relations with a Congress of the opposing party, so he chose not to say anything that might harm that relationship. Unfortunately, we were thus deprived of Eisenhower’s insight into the complex that has created a mindset in which our government tends to view many situations abroad as military challenges instead of, more beneficially for both our and foreign interests, preventive, diplomatic, and assistance missions. Lives will be saved by not having our soldiers patrol the world to the degree that exists now, provoking the populace into adverse responses in which they would not have otherwise engaged.

President Eisenhower, a West Point trained five-star general, also made this statement on the real costs of the military: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” Unfortunately military spending is necessary but most expenditures now are not. They are wasteful and harmful.

In November 2011, Admiral Ryan decried the “gross mismanagement and cost overruns in expensive weapons programs, few of which have any relevance to the wars our troops are fighting today.” In a Senate floor speech, Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain accused the Pentagon of “a shocking lack of any accountability” for cost overruns and matching new weapons to actual combat needs.

Billions of dollars of contractor looting have been exposed by Pentagon audits and investigations by the GAO. No matter how obsolete, unnecessary, hazardously designed, or redundant (each military service has its own specially designed vehicles and aircraft), contracts keep getting renewed and overruns reimbursed year after year. Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense and CIA director, described military spending after 9/11: “What little discipline existed in the Defense Department when it came to spending has gone completely out the window,” and “America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long, relative to what we spend on the military.” Former Air Force Chief General Merrill McPeak said, “If we can’t defend this country for $300 billion a year, we ought to get some new generals.”

By the time you read this, the war in Afghanistan will likely be over. The Obama administration requested $86 billion in military spending for this war in the 2013 fiscal year. That included only funds expended specifically for the costs of the war. This does not include soldiers’ regular pay, only combat pay. The $86 billion also excluded the costs of future medical care for soldiers and veterans wounded in the war or the additional interest payments on the national debt that will result from higher deficits due to unfunded war spending.

The war is not likely to have made us safer, but instead put us at greater risk from the fury created in response to U.S. caused casualties. In every year of the war Afghan civilians died in higher numbers, many by drones the U.S. used illegally there and in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and beyond. Our adversaries in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan had no air force, no navy, no artillery, no tanks or armored personnel carriers, no elaborate logistics, no battlefield communications, and no nighttime vision. They had little training, and their principal weapons were rifles, improvised exploding devices, and suicide belts.

About 25,000 to 30,000 Taliban fighters in sandals held at bay the world’s most powerful military force, which has deployed over 130,000 soldiers plus an equal number of contractors in the field. It is hard to believe that U.S. soldiers were there to fight for our freedom and safety. We will organize a new opposition to ruinous runaway militarism.

We support these policy recommendations of the Institute for Policy Studies as conservative measures to reduce annual military spending while maintaining or increasing national security:

  • Reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal – a $20 billion saving per year:

Reducing the nuclear arsenal to no more than 311 warheads will save $20 billion per year. An arsenal of that size would provide more than enough nuclear deterrence against current and future threats, according to the faculty of the Air War College and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. If we make this reduction, Russia has agreed to match it. This reduction will also give rise to major savings by saving on operations and maintenance costs—an under-recognized and huge portion of the Pentagon expense account.

  • Eliminate two active Air Force wings and two carrier groups that are not needed to address current and probable future threats – a $8 billion saving per year.
  • Scale back outsourcing – a $40 billion saving per year: A 15% decrease in non-Pentagon national security federal service contracts will save $3.3 billion per year, and the same decrease on military contracts would have saved $37.2 billion in 2013. These reductions could easily be achieved without reducing national security.[2]
  • Close one in three U.S. military bases in Europeand Asia – a $10 billion saving per year:
  • The United States maintains roughly 1,000 military bases worldwide. We support closing many, but in the near-term, bases in Europeand Asia, which serve what are now outdated Cold War purposes, should go first. We recommend that at least 50,000 troops be withdrawn from military bases in Europe and Asia. This will save $10 billion per year.
  • End Foreign Military Financing – a $5 billion saving per year.
    The State Department spent $5 billion in 2013 on grants for foreign governments to buy U.S.-made weapons. This arms trade often fuels conflicts and contributes to human rights and international law violations. Ending this arms trade will save $5 billion per year.

When the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are ended, the additional reduction in military spending resulting from the above policies from the current baseline of $530 billion will bring military spending to $447 billion. However, former Air Force Chief General Merrill McPeak’s judgment that the country could be easily defended for $300 billion a year we believe is almost certainly correct, likely by a large margin because General McPeak would include one in any estimate he gave. The extreme waste and inefficiency has been discovered despite the fact that the GAO has determined the Defense Department budget to be unauditable. Donald Rumsfeld complained when he was Defense Secretary that about $3 trillion could not be traced.

The Center for American Progress discovered wasteful spending in these areas among others:

  • Our spending on military R&D is significantly higher than that during the height of the Cold War.
  • V-22 Osprey helicopters, despite bipartisan support to scrap production due to safety con­cerns and ongoing technical problems, continue to be purchased at $90 million each.
  • A new nuclear research facility (CMRR-NF), has been budgeted, even though the House Appropriations Committee recommended delay because it has “no coherent mission,” and it would cost fifteen times more to maintain than the existing facility.
  • We continue to purchase the Virginia class sub­marine, “though it is ill-suited to fight today’s asymmetrical wars” at $2.6 billion each.[3]

The military budget is about half the entire discretionary budget of the U.S. government, yet it is not audited. This leads to enormous amounts of waste. One year the GAO caught the Air Force buying billions of dollars in spare parts because it did not know these parts were already purchased and in a warehouse. New Enlightenment policy requires the Department of Defense budget to be audited annually to discover waste and abuse.

Although we believe General McPeak’s estimate is probably correct, and possibly an overestimate on the level of spending best for the country, we will not make this judgment without intelligence information that we cannot have in our current position. To be conservative, we will assume that waste reduction could be accomplished to bring spending down to the midpoint of our $437 billion and General McPeak’s $300 billion estimate, or to a $368.5 billion annual expenditure, yielding a $161.5 billion saving per year.

 

[1] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, http://www.sipri.org/media/pressreleases/2014/nuclear_May_2014

[2] Analysis and estimates from the Project On Government Oversight and Taxpayers for Common Sense

[3] Rebalancing Our National Security, October 2012, Center for American Progress report

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 199-202. 1,318 word excerpt. Next subject is: Increase Funding for Public Defenders, Reform Criminal Laws, and Support Inmate Rehabilitation.

Increase Social Security Payments: Social Security Plus

Our Social Security benefits are low by international standards. The United States ranks 31st among 34 developed countries in the percentage of a median worker’s earnings that the public-pension system replaces. For someone who worked all of his or her adult life at average earnings and retires at 65 in 2012, Social Security benefits replace about 41% of past earnings. The OECD average is 57.9%. This “replacement rate” will decrease to about 36% for a median earner retiring at 65 in the future. The full retirement age, which has already risen to 66, will climb to 67 over the 2017-2022 period.

Sixty-two million elderly and disabled people receive Social Security benefit payments. Many depend on them to meet basic needs, but inadequate support is common. For 65% of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security provides the majority of their income. For over 36%, it provides more than 90% of their income. For 24% of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security is the sole source of retirement income. Among those aged 80 or older, it provides the majority of income for 76% of beneficiaries and nearly all the income for 45% of beneficiaries.[1]

About 5.4 million Social Security recipients live in poverty. Four percent of those over sixty-five, or 1.6 million people, are ineligible for Social Security, 44% of whom, or 700,000 people, live in poverty. In 2011, Social Security paid 41.6% of retired workers receiving benefits an amount under $1,000 per month, and 62.6% of retired workers under $1,400 per month. In June 2012, the average Social Security retirement benefit was $1,234 a month, about $14,800 a year.[2]

Our low benefits are reduced further due to high health care costs. Most retirees enroll in Medicare’s Supplementary Medical Insurance and have premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. As the rise in health care costs continue to outpace general inflation, those premiums will increase the number of recipients unable to meet basic needs.

Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) benefits make up over 90% of income for nearly half of non-institutionalized recipients and over 75% of income for the vast majority of recipients.  Almost one-fourth or 3.5 million people receiving DI fall below the poverty line. Most of the 14 million receiving DI live below 200% of the poverty line. The monthly benefits to 56.2% of the disabled receiving benefits were under $1,000 per month and 74.6%

under $1,400 per month.  About 13% of disabled-worker beneficiaries also collect Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which indicates that they are very poor, with few or no assets.  SSI lifts them to just over three-fourths of the poverty line. The average SSI payment is less than $550 per month.[3]

Our low benefits are not justified based on the proportion of our population requiring support. Because of the U.S.’ comparatively high birth and immigration rates, we are graying less rapidly than many other nations.  People age 60 or older will make up about a quarter of our population in 2040, a figure that several European countries and Japan have already surpassed.

Many “pundits” express that we need to keep Social Security benefits low because of a future “demographic crisis,” but this “crisis” is exaggerated. As there are more non-working older people, there will be fewer children or below working age people to support, due to lower reproduction rates. Also, productivity continues to increase, allowing fewer workers to produce more, and a sufficient amount even if the proportion of the dependent population rises. The Congressional Budget Office projects average productivity growth through 2033 of 1.66% per year.  The Social Security Administration projects that in 2033, the number of workers per recipient will be 2.1; today it is 2.8. However, based on the CBO productivity growth projection, 2.1 workers will produce then what 2.82 workers produce today.   

The Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Aging Preparedness index rates various nations’ readiness for future demographic changes.  CSIS assigns a low priority to reducing Social Security benefits in the United States. Its top priority for the United States is reining in future health-care costs and growth. As I noted previously, our health care costs are more than twice the per capita costs of the average of OECD nations.

Among all workers, including those offered and not offered a retirement plan at work, only 39.6% participated in a retirement plan in 2009, the first time in 15 years that it dropped below 40 percent.[4] In 1999, 69% of employers offered their full-time workers some form of retirement benefits. Now, just 62% of employers or unions provide a pension or retirement savings account, and this downward trend is expected to continue. This trend away from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution retirement plans is projected to reduce average retirement incomes.[5]  The Employee Benefits Research Institute’s Jack VanDerhei estimates 45% of the next generation of retirees will fall short of meeting their basic financial needs—not a comfortable retirement, but basic needs.

Social Security is well managed, with less than 1% of its expenditures for administration. It is more efficient, secure, and fair in its distribution than any private sector counterpart is or could ever be. It is an excellent example of government working well, and reducing inequality. Without Social Security, poverty among those over 65 would jump from 9% to 50%.[6]

Social Security benefits more than just the recipient. Knowing that one’s parents will have Social Security frees up the generation in the middle to direct more family resources to their own children.

The Social Security system’s funding mechanism requires modification. It is based on a work-related, contributory system in which workers provide for their own future economic security through taxes paid while employed. Since inequality has increased greatly and is characterized by tens of millions of Americans with below a living wage, a just retirement system cannot provide only some fraction of this inadequate amount. We should source some portion of the benefit from general funds supported by progressive taxes.  

New Enlightenment policy institutes a $500 per month benefit increase for all current Social Security recipients and a $500 per month payment to all citizens over age 65 not currently eligible for Social Security. This will substantially reduce poverty levels and substantially improve the standard of living of an additional tens of millions of people. And tens of millions of low-income people having substantially more disposable income for the consumption of goods and services as a result of this policy will have a stimulus effect on the economy that will increase federal revenue.

The annual cost of the Social Security Plus program will be $382 billion, about half of which will be paid for by raising the cap on the income on which the Social Security tax is applied. In addition to eliminating the worker half of the Social Security tax (included in policy 1), we will eliminate the $133,700 income cap on the employer portion of the tax. This will raise $189 billion per year.[7] We will fund the other half of the cost through progressive New Enlightenment taxes.

 

[1] The Aging Networks, 8th Edition: A Guide to Programs and Services By Kelly Niles-Yokum, PhD, MPA, Kelly Niles-Yokum, Donna L. Wagner, PhD, pg. 124

[2] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Top Ten Facts About Social Security

[3] Social Security Administration Publication No. 13-11785, Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2015

[4] Employment-Based Retirement Plan Participation: Geographic Differences and Trends, 2009 By Craig Copeland, Employee Benefit Research Institute

[5] Social Security Bulletin • Vol. 69 • No. 3 • 2009,  The Disappearing Defined Benefit Pension and Its Potential Impact on the Retirement Incomes of Baby Boomers by Barbara A. Butrica, Howard M. Iams, Karen E. Smith, and Eric J. Toder

[6]Social Security Reduces Inequality- Efficiently, Effectively and Fairly, Nancy Altman and Eric Kingston, from Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality edited by David Cay Johnston, pg. 250

[7] Secure Retirement For All Americans, New America Foundation, Steven Hill August 2010

Excerpt from The New Enlightenment, pages 202-210, 3,216 words.

Increase Funding for Public Defenders, Reform Criminal Laws, and Support Inmate Rehabilitation

Unnecessarily harsh crime laws and a dysfunctional criminal justice system have caused devastating harm to millions of Americans, especially those least able to defend themselves. Criminal justice system reforms are an important part of economic policy reforms because of the unnecessary economic harm to individuals, local communities, and our country caused by our unjust and dysfunctional criminal justice system.

About 2.4 million people are now incarcerated, often under horrific conditions. This is an incarceration rate of 760 prisoners per 100,000 population, or more than seven times higher than the median rate for the 34 OECD countries. One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, are either in prison, on parole or probation.[1] Imprisonment rates have quintupled over the last 30 years, mainly due to the war on drugs. In fact, this war has been waged to a large degree on the poor, and disproportionately on African Americans. However, evidence indicates that people of color aren’t any more likely to commit drug crimes than whites are.

The drug war has been brutal. The onslaught has involved SWAT teams, military equipment, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods, mainly in poor African American communities. Little is known elsewhere about this war and its devastation. Federal laws motivated these enormously destructive practices by allowing state and local law enforcement agencies to keep 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, and by providing funding based on the number of drug arrests. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession only.

During the 1990s—the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war—nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city where the vast majority of drug war resources and arrests have been focused.[2]

Accounting for both those in and out of prison, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life, mainly resulting from the drug war. People with a felony record can be legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, food stamps and other public benefits, in addition to being denied the right to vote and to be excluded from juries. The system seems designed to send people back to prison, which is what happens about 70% of the time because of the immense challenges created by the system for survival after prison release.[3]

As I noted previously, Villanova College sociologists determined that if the mass incarceration trend had not occurred in recent decades, the poverty rate would be 20% lower today and five million fewer people would have fallen below the poverty line.[4] By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated. Incarceration significantly depresses total lifetime earnings, so it is a significant factor in economic inequality, especially between minorities and whites.[5]

The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that a clinical diagnosis of mental illness would exist for nearly two-thirds of inmates (64.2%) in local jails, and an average of over 50% in state and federal prison.[6] Prison conditions can exacerbate mental illness, and create it in some of those not previously mentally ill, yet our prisons are being used, to a large degree, to warehouse the mentally ill.

There is an epidemic of violence in big-city jails across the country.[7] Rape is shockingly common in prison. Over seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year. These conditions threaten both the physical and mental health of many prisoners, and should not be tolerated in any civilized society.

How many lives have we destroyed throughout this period of mass incarceration? Aside from the moral implications, and the funds wasted on prisons, how much has this cost us all in wasted human resources that could have benefited us all?

Prisons are necessary for public safety, both by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets and by deterring would-be offenders. However, the overuse and inappropriate use of incarceration and brutal prison conditions are harmful to society. And when prisoners are released, a decent, functional society must help them fulfill their responsibilities to their victims, their families and their communities by helping them find and keep legitimate employment.

For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant broken homes, poverty, and hopelessness, as they see their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely to be incarcerated themselves. 25% of African Americans who grew up in the last three decades have had at least one parent locked up during their childhood.[8]

A false view of our legal system is widespread, due to shows like “Law and Order,” which suggest that everyone accused of a crime has a lawyer who appears on demand, willing to do tremendous investigation and background research for the defendant in even the most routine cases. This is not true. Hundreds of thousands of people go to jail or prison every year without even meeting with an attorney because they cannot afford one and a public defender was not provided. In one California county alone, in 2002, there were over 12,000 guilty pleas entered by people who had no lawyer.5

Many plead guilty based on a promise of a lesser sentence by prosecutors and the threat of a harsh sentence, such as ten or more years in prison. Knowing they will not be properly defended, and rightly suspecting that the judge or jury will believe the police officer’s word over theirs, innocent people plead guilty. Those who speak to a public defender often get nothing more than a few minutes of time and a hurried guilty plea recommendation because of overwhelming caseloads. More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury. Most people charged with crimes forfeit their constitutional rights and plead guilty.[9]

Public defense caseloads frequently far exceed national standards, which limit felony cases to 150 a year per attorney. Felony caseloads of 600 or more are common. A New York Times investigation found defenders with a total caseload of over 1,600 cases annually.[10] Access to investigators, experts or scientific testing is commonly lacking. Governments often spend three times as much on prosecution as on public defense. Rates for assigned counsel (private lawyers appointed when there is no public defender available) are often set at $25 or $30 per hour, even though the average cost of running a law office is much higher.

If societies are judged based on how they treat their most vulnerable people, ours will not be judged well. When people are threatened with losing their freedom and being branded for life with the crippling label of “felon,” and they do not have the resources to defend themselves, New Enlightenment policies will ensure that sufficient resources are provided so they can be properly defended.

The 6th Amendment to the Constitution requires this: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall…have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

New Enlightenment policies require all jurisdictions to meet national caseload maximum standards for public defenders with appropriate investigative, expert and scientific testing support. About $5.3 billion is spent per year nationally by state and local governments on public defender and assigned council programs.[11] We will include in the federal budget an additional $4.5 billion per year for the public defense of individuals who cannot afford an attorney. These funds will be provided within a 50/50 federal/local jurisdiction sharing of expenses to meet New Enlightenment national standards. For local jurisdictions with median incomes less than 80% of national median income, where excessive hardships would be produced in raising the taxes to participate in the 50/50 funding partnership, the federal government will provide 90% of the additional funding needed to meet the standards.

Net costs for this policy will be reduced by the reduction in costs from the reduction in false imprisonments. False convictions happen regularly, but we don’t know how often because most false convictions never see the light of day. We know only about the rare ones that are discovered and corrected (at least in part) by exoneration. Exonerations are unlikely and unrepresentative of the mass of invisible false convictions, and we don’t have nearly a full count of exonerations. Because the average time from conviction to exoneration is about 13 years, only those sentenced to serious crimes with decades-long prison terms are likely to even bother undertaking the long, arduous, and resource-intensive process of proving their innocence.[12] Exonerations are used as a measure of the percentage of convictions that are false, but it is a very poor measure.

We will never know the accurate number of false convictions, but some studies estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent.[13]  These estimates can be wildly inaccurate because exonerations are just the tip of an iceberg of wrongful convictions; it is not unlikely to be significantly higher than 5%. Assuming 5%, the number of innocent people in prison is about 120,000. If a better functioning public defense system could reduce this number by 30%, 36,000 fewer innocent people would be in prison. At the average cost of $31,000 per prisoner, this yields a saving of $1.12 billion per year. However, even if we ignore these savings, the approximate total $7.2 billion policy cost (this assumes that $2 billion of the $4.5 billion in federal dollars will be spent covering 90% of the policy cost), including the costs to local jurisdictions, is about $23 per capita. Equal justice for all, which is supposed to be one of our most important ideals, and which the 6th Amendment and 14th Amendment to our Constitution (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of his life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person…. the equal protection of the laws) is supposed to guarantee, is well worth this cost.

Also reducing costs will be New Enlightenment policies that will treat drug use as a public health problem requiring treatment and community service, and not use jail time for those guilty of drug possession. Prohibition has exploded the prison population and bred more serious crimes by suppliers and dealers, including violent crimes and the corruption of officials.

State and local drug laws should change; the following facts and grants will motivate this change:

Federal grants of $3 per state resident will be provided to states that institute statewide addiction treatment programs instead of prison time for drug possession. The states would distribute the funds to local jurisdictions as appropriate.

According to several conservative estimates, every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to healthcare are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1. Major savings to the individual and to society also stem from fewer interpersonal conflicts; greater workplace productivity, and fewer drug-related accidents, including overdoses and deaths.[14] The federal grants require an annual budgeted amount of $950 million.

New Enlightenment policies will vigorously support successful reintegration of released inmates into society. To do so we, will motivate jurisdictions nationwide to adopt the following Pew Charitable Trusts policy recommendations with grants and education campaigns, and institute these policies in federal cases:271

  • Reconnect former inmates to the labor market through education and training, job search and placement support and follow-up services to help former inmates stay employed. In-prison vocational programs produced net benefits of $13,738 per offender (a return of $12.62 for every dollar invested), and adult general education produced net benefits of $10,669 per offender (or $12.09 per dollar invested). Employment and job training services for offenders in the community yielded $4,359 per offender, the equivalent of $11.90 per dollar invested. When the other New Enlightenment policies are instituted, the workforce will be fully or nearly fully employed, so former inmates will find it far easier to find employment on release than under current labor market conditions.
  • Enhance former inmates’ economic condition by capping the percent of an offender’s income subject to deductions for unpaid debts (such as court-ordered fines and fees), and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. An extensive EITC expansion is in Policy 1.
  • Screen people convicted of crimes by the risks they pose to society and divert lower-risk offenders into high-quality, community-based mandatory supervision programs. “Technical violators,” offenders who have broken the rules of their probation or parole but have not committed new crimes, make up as much as half to two-thirds of prison admissions in some states and are a particularly large target for diversion. Every day spent under community supervision rather than behind bars is an opportunity for a sentenced individual to build vocational experience, to care for children, and to pay victim restitution and other fines and fees, rather than drain resources from the public coffer. Statistics indicate that the average cost per day in state prison is near $80 compared with a day on probation supervision, which costs just $3.50. The $76.50 difference per day per person is a 96% saving.
  • Use earned-time credits, a proven model that offers selected inmates a shortened prison stay if they complete educational, vocational, or rehabilitation programs that boost their chances of successful re-entry into the community and the labor market. A study of states that used earned-time credits found that offenders who earned the credits had fewer new felony convictions and that prison stays for the eligible offenders dropped by over two months, saving the state money on incarceration costs. Similar earned time credits to shorten supervision terms should be offered to offenders on probation and parole to encourage compliance and avoid incarceration for violations.
  • Use swift and certain sanctions other than prison, such as short but immediate weekend jail stays, to punish probation and parole violations, holding offenders accountable while allowing them to keep their jobs.

The community-based supervision programs and in and out of prison training and rehabilitation programs will result in jurisdictions having a large net saving in funds. This alone should motivate the establishment of these policy changes nationwide. To further motivate this we will offer a $10 per state resident grant to states that meet federal guidelines for community-based supervision programs, and in and out of prison training and rehabilitation programs, in all jurisdictions statewide. The states would distribute the funds to local jurisdictions statewide, based on prison population or financial need as appropriate.

This policy will significantly improve state and local budgets, both through more efficient use of funds and the large subsidy. Neglecting savings at the federal level the subsidy would cost the federal government $3.2 billion per year.

Besides drug laws, other criminal laws also need reform including “three strikes” and mandatory minimum laws. Our goal is to put an end to excessively harsh crime policies that result in mass incarceration and stand in the way of a just and equal society. When large numbers of people are unnecessarily torn from their families, those families, their communities, and our entire society are degraded in many ways.  Usually, where incarceration is now used, better ways than harsh prison sentences exist to instill a sense of responsibility.

We will also eliminate public benefit and rights restrictions on those with a felony conviction. Society’s best interest is served by supporting released prisoners’ reintegration into society, not by erecting unnecessary barriers to it, as current public policy does.

Additional specific reforms require further development, which we would accomplish by motivating the debate needed for determining more effective and humane policies to deter behavior where there is wide agreement that it needs to be deterred and the level and nature of rehabilitation efforts.

The public defender policy cost of $4.5 billion, the drug treatment subsidy of $950 million, the community-based supervision programs, and the in and out of prison training and rehabilitation program’s cost of $3.2 billion total about $8.7 billion. Since most of the resulting savings will be at the state and local level, and we ensure that we are conservative in our federal budget analysis, we will use this $8.7 billion as the net additional federal cost. This amount is also conservative since the level of crime will likely decrease as a result of the more just and prosperous economic conditions resulting from New Enlightenment policies.

One indication that crime rates are associated with economic and political injustice: Although the number of guns per capita in Switzerland is the highest in Europe, it is about half that in the U.S. But they have 0.5 gun homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and we have about 5 firearm killings per 100,000 people, or ten times as many.[15]

We need major reform of gun laws but the gun homicide rate disparity indicates most of the problem is cultural. Just changing the gun laws will not solve the problem. These cultural factors likely include economic inequality, poverty rates, incarceration rates, food insecurity rates, poor quality of K-12 education in low-income areas, access disparities to health care and college education and other social support disparities, and a political system that ignores the preferences of the vast majority of the population. These problems either do not exist or are much less severe in Switzerland. When people are treated like their lives don’t matter, it is more likely for them to treat others like their lives don’t matter, sometimes violently. Our gun laws and gun violence rates are symptoms of more fundamental social problems that require solution.

 

My proposed tax policies and policies that reduce wasteful spending will more than sufficiently support all my proposed policies requiring federal funds.

 

[1] The New York Times, One in Every 31 Adults in Prison; Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid, 3/2/09, Solomon Moore

[2] The New Jim Crow: How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste, Michelle Alexander, Huffington Post, 03/08/10, See Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow for more details

[3] Michelle Alexander on the Irrational Race Bias of the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems 8/1/12, By Mark Karlin,http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/10629-truthout-interviews-michelle-alexander-on-the-irrational-race-bias-of-the-criminal-justice-and-prison-systems

[4] The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty, H. DeFina, Lance Hannon Villanova University – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences February 23, 2009

[5] The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010. Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.

[6] The National Institute of Mental Health website, Inmate Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1DOJ.shtml

[7] Rikers Island Struggles with a Rise in Violence: Schwirtz, Michael. New York Times, 3/11/14

[8] Incarceration in Fragile Families, Christopher Wildeman, Bruce Western, The Future of Children, Volume 20, Number 2, Fall 2010, pgs. 157-177

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/opinion/sunday/go-to-trial-crash-the-justice-system.html

[10] National Legal Aid & Defender Association, website http://www.nlada.org/Defender/Defender_Gideon/Defender_Gideon_5_Problems

[11] State, County and Local Expenditures for Indigent Defense Services, Fiscal Year 2008, Prepared for: The American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, Bar Information Program, Prepared By: Holly R. Stevens, Colleen E. Sheppard, Robert Spangenberg, Aimee Wickman, Jon B. Gould

[12] Mother Jones, How Many Innocent People Are in Prison? Beth Schwartzapfel, Hannah Levintova, 12/12/11, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/innocent-people-us-prisons

[13]  Innocence Project website http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/How_many_innocent_people_are_there_in_prison.php.

[14] National Institute on Drug Abuse website, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/drug-addiction-treatment-worth-its-cost

[15] Time magazine, The Swiss Difference: A Gun Culture That Works, Helena Bachmann 12/20/12