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An economy for everyone

Jason Reese October 19th, 2011

Times are tough, and it is becoming ever more apparent that Oklahoma cannot remain immune to the economic sickness that has emerged as a chronic condition for our country.

It is all too easy to yield to a certain dark fatalism, or on the contrary, to invest all one’s hopes in fundamental change on the federal level. While much room for improvement remains in national politics — from ending the farce known as “free trade,” to tackling the debt, and we must hold national decision makers to account — it would be folly to ignore opportunities to control our own destiny in Central Oklahoma.

We all like to mouth platitudes about the importance of education for economic development, but I fear that we have developed a blind spot in the process. Yes, university education is a distinct good (that is why I have strenuously argued for lower tuition), but we are never going to have an economy totally comprised of university graduates. What we could have, although I pray we never do, is an economy made up of well-educated, abstract thinkers and those who wait on them. This is Oklahoma, not Greenwich or Georgetown.

We are subsidizing degrees in the university system that have no economic benefit.

In order to build an economy that works for everyone, Central Oklahoma needs a skills revolution. This revolution means prioritizing career and technology education. In legislative debates about education spending, both state and local, we seem to get stuck on common and higher education, while ignoring what would rightfully be called “skills” education. So, yes, we need to spend more money on CareerTech in Central Oklahoma, from keeping student costs down, to expanding offerings. Meanwhile, state and local government need to expand partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and unions to increase apprenticeship opportunities.

The place where we need to see the most fundamental change is the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. This agency, which handles unemployment claims in our state, has performed a vital safety net for decades. But as the federal government has increased eligibility for unemployment all the way to 99 weeks, taxpayers have begun to question the wisdom of paying people to do nothing. The taxpayers’ gripe is valid, but the unemployed worker is not well-served, either. Work is not only about putting food on the table, but also about dignity and self-sufficiency. Even if we could afford to pay a majority of people a living wage to sit at home, we would be unwise to do so because of the infantilization of society that would ensue. I am by no means an economic determinist, but it is no coincidence that the decline of economic opportunity for blue-collar workers across our country has occurred alongside a decline in the health of blue-collar family life.

Therefore, we need to reorient unemployment to being primarily a retraining program. If you are unemployed for more than a month, you can continue receiving benefits only if you enroll in a program to train you in a skill that is in demand. As an aside: Let’s face it, we are subsidizing degrees in the university system that have no economic benefit whatsoever, to the state or the student. An economy for everyone: more expensive at first, maybe, but in the long run more than worth it.

Reese is a lawyer in downtown Oklahoma City.

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10.26.2011 at 08:29 Reply

"What we could have, although I pray we never do, is an economy made up of well-educated, abstract thinkers and those who wait on them. This is Oklahoma, not Greenwich or Georgetown."

The arrogance of this comment is overwhelming.  Clearly you have but one vision for those who have degrees in liberal arts, art history, English literature, etc...  This idea that abstract thought is a bad thing is pathetic.  The late Steve Jobs was a college dropout, but his abstract thoughts made Apple everything it is today.  I'd bet you own an iPhone, and the irony is probably still lost on you.

Somewhere in your mind you have created this visualization of people holding degrees who do nothing but sit at home, eat bonbons, watch TV and drawing welfare.  What is wrong with you?  I’ve known people who with multiple degrees who worked for Wal-Mart because they couldn’t find work in their field (things like engineering, and electrical engineering).  Applying stereotypes to anyone has never been considered intelligent, but you do so as if it’s rocket science.  Those people are victims of where they live.  How about we shift our focus to the corporations that sent those positions overseas so they could add to their bottom line and cause false inflation?

"Taxpayers have begun to question the wisdom of paying people to do nothing."  As if to add insult to injury you have the audacity to try and dictate what those who are unemployed must do while they are utilizing a benefit they funded in the first place.  That's like me throwing money in a savings account in case I lose my job but then being told how I have to spend it.  Coming from a lawyer, that seems a tad unconstitutional.  And what's more ignorant is the fact that you flat out say that these unemployed people "sit at home" when in fact they must prove they are actively seeking employment in order to maintain their benefits.

You also say that unemployment provides a "living wage."  You just keep piling on the stupid statements don't you?  Let me show you what 1 minute of internet searching finds. 

“Oklahoma figures weekly benefit amounts by taking 1/23rd of your highest earnings over the "first four of the last five completed calendar quarters." The amount can never exceed $392 weekly and cannot be less that $16.”

It goes on....

“If approved, unemployment benefits can be paid until the total reaches the lesser of 26 times your weekly amount, 25% of the average annual wage or 50% of your wages.”

So let me get this straight.  If you (a lawyer) were unemployed and eligible for the maximum $392 a week, YOU could live off that wage?  Cause that’s what you’re implying!  Don’t try to bullshit a bullshitter Mr. Reese, I have mortgage on a modest home (built in 1960) and 1 car payment (a stock 2006 Scion, not a BMW) and I couldn’t survive on what you’re calling a “living wage.”  I suppose this is the problem with commentary, its pure opinion, and the Gazette really should give someone an opportunity to rebut you in print, lest you come off as some kind of authority, which clearly you are not. 

Obviously in order to receive the top tier of unemployment (which would equal $18,816 a year) you’d have to be an unemployed professional whom made more than double that amount when they were employed. That’s extremely unlikely, as the majority of people who are let go will be middle of the road blue collar types.  Odds are they’ll never come close to making that kind of “living wage” from unemployment.  For reference, a person making minimum wage and working 40 hours a week will only GROSS $13,920 a year, and I don’t know what planet you live on, but minimum wage is not a “living wage.”  I wonder, do you ever do any research when you write these things, or are you just shooting from the hip?

Skilled labor is what we need.  But once you have that laborer, who is to say a job is going to exist for that skilled laborer?  This is the gamble.  One who is living on unemployment cannot take a chance relegating their dismal unemployment check pursuing schooling which will not have a guaranteed job waiting for them when they exit their training.  This is no different than the scenario you created with the “abstract” thinkers.  You have educated (skilled) individuals and no jobs for them to fill.  What we need are programs that guarantee job placement after such training.  Then you’ve given real incentive to those on unemployment to get educated in a trade/skill.   The caveat would have to be that such schooling would exempt that person from seeking immediate employment as a requirement for maintaining their benefit.  However, that benefit must also be extended on the condition of success in their training, and that those who fail in such training would be liable for the repayment of the benefits they received during that training.


10.26.2011 at 08:35 Reply

Jason Reese, in case you're wondering where I got my unemployment information, here's the link.


Your move.



10.26.2011 at 10:01 Reply

Also worth noting.

Unemployment is taxed.

And those on unemployment needing to maintain their health benefits with a Cobra plan can expect to spend their whole unemployment and a chunk of their savings on healthcare.  Because while the exact amount is hard to run down, it appears that Cobra costs between $300 and $600.  

So if Jason suggesting that unemployed people should be without healthcare?  What happens if they get in an accident?  The hospital will end up eating the cost, and claiming it on their taxes, thus putting the burden on the tax payers whom he seems oh so concerned about.  Or they can just die, right Jason?