The debt hawks are to economics as the creationists are to biology.
Generally, I prefer to state a problem, then propose a solution. But when one solution addresses several problems, perhaps the reverse sequence is appropriate. The solution is: The federal government should pay all students – elementary school, middle school, high school, college and post grad – a salary.
Let’s first dispense with the debt-hawk, knee-jerk reaction that this will increase the federal debt and cause inflation. We have discussed the so-called “debt problem” numerous places in this blog, and don’t need to repeat the discussion, here. If you want a refresher, please go through some of the posts listed to the left.
Before we get into details, here are some of the problems the solution could address:
1. Reduce the school dropout rate. Many students enter the employment world early for a simple, practical reason. They need the money. Some families encourage their children to do this, for the same practical reason. Even with scholarships, many families simply cannot afford to send their children to high school, let alone college and beyond.
2. Grow the economy I: During a recession, an economy is starved for money. Unquestionably, the various stimulus payments have helped us recover from the recession and have increased economic growth. While there is substantial disagreement about how much these payments have accomplished, there is scant belief that economic growth was not helped at all. Salary payments to students would add growth money to the economy by providing jobs. (In this case, the job is to attend school.) Even without a recession, added jobs and added salaries help the economy grow.
3. Grow the economy II: A more educated population will be better equipped to deal with tomorrow’s more advanced economies. The 30 occupations with the largest employment declines, 2008-18 all involved unskilled or semi-skilled labor, with no college education required. In contrast, the majority of The 30 fastest-growing occupations, 2008-18 required college or advanced degrees.
4. Grow the economy III: A more educated population will be better equipped to create tomorrow’s more advanced economies. Most technological advancements come from college-educated people. Nations have suffered because of a so-called “brain drain,” meaning when the most educated people leave, the country has difficulty progressing. Clearly, there is a relationship between education and economic growth. For America not to fall behind, we continuously must create more and better-educated people.
5. Improve our quality of life: America needs more doctors, nurses, scientists, chemists, architects and engineers of all types. These are the people who will care for us and who will develop the medicines and medical techniques, the medical equipment and modern hospitals to improve our lives.
6. Reduce the crime level. High school drop outs are inordinately involved in crime. One could argue this is not cause/effect, but rather the type of person who drops out also is the type who has criminal tendencies. I disagree it’s a matter of type. Rather, the high school dropout has fewer, attractive employment opportunities, and as a result, is drawn into crime. Crime may seem the only opportunity to have money. Take those young people off the street corners, put them in school and pay them money, and the crime rate will decline.
7. Improve our laws: Educated people probably read more and understand more. As a result, they may be more astute voters, more able to make intelligent judgments about the relative qualities of various office holders and candidates. They probably write more letters to politicians and to the media, and are more able to be effective members of school boards, political offices and other leadership roles. The educated may be better able to analyze political promises and activities.
As with all ideas, the devil is in the details, some of which are:
1. Pay a salary to attend what kinds of school? An accredited school as opposed to a diploma mill or home schooling. Because we suggest paying a salary to students, rather than making a payment to a school, we can include religious schools, which sometimes are the best schools in a given area.
2. How much salary? The salary can be lowest for the lowest grades and increase stepwise through post graduate. It might vary according to average local salaries, with the student’s home being the determinant. For high school and above, the salary should be above the single person’s poverty guideline for each geographic area.
Many federal programs already use the poverty guidelines as a starting point: “Programs using the guidelines (or percentage multiples of the guidelines — for instance, 125 percent or 185 percent of the guidelines) in determining eligibility include Head Start, the Food Stamp Program, the National School Lunch Program, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
3. Should wealth, income or other federal benefits be considered? No, the only considerations should be geographic area and level of education. Rich or poor, all Americans should receive the same benefit.
4. What about “professional students.” They will continue to exist. The salaries should not be so high as overly to encourage this behavior. We might think about time limits, depending on the student’s major. But we should not consider age limits. A person, who becomes unemployed at age 50, and who wishes to attend school, should be encouraged to do so.
5. What about scholarships? Schools should not be allowed to consider this salary among their criteria for scholarships. I also would not allow for taxing of this salary, but that may be too much to hope for.
6. Who would administer the program? The states should administer it, and the federal government should pay for it. The states could delegate administration to specific school districts within the states. There is no need to invent a massive federal bureaucracy when local bureaucracies exist, and are most knowledgeable about local situations.
That’s the bare outline. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
No nation can tax itself into prosperity