People don’t end up in prison because they wanted to land there. Something impacts their lives for them to wind up behind bars.
Crime’s greatest enemies are: a stable upbringing, an education, and a job skill. We must do far more to ensure each of these ingredients in the life of a child. If we don’t, these children and our own will bear the financial costs of this monumental dysfunction. In the end, they are all our children.
Access to affordable health coverage is a key factor. Many people struggle physically simply because they can’t afford the cost of treatment. And timely treatment for addiction and underlying illnesses that lead to dysfunction and absence from the workforce is the only way to bring this exploding underclass into productive, contributing citizenship.
We pay for universal healthcare in America today. It’s just not delivered timely for millions of Americans, costing us untold billions of dollars in higher costs, lower productivity, and a stunted workforce, in addition to staggeringly higher prison populations, poverty, and dysfunction. Those without coverage get their care in our emergency rooms, jails, and prisons, erratically and ineffectively.
We can also ensure that each adult who works a full time job earns enough to care for a child, without relying on government support. This is rooted in a simple Old Testament principle that each person should receive the fruits of his or her labor. While it’s the right thing morally, it’s also the right thing economically for our nation. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the past 50 years it would be around $11.00/hr, and a parent earning that much would not qualify for food stamps and much other government assistance. We should always promote a work ethic and ensure that the gap between surviving on government assistance and earning an income through work is as wide as possible. Work is ennobling, and it shows the next generation how to care for themselves as well.
The response of the majority in Congress and the administration to these realities was to cut taxes for corporations - during a period of record corporate profits and a soaring stock market. Sadly, 83% of the tax cuts went to the ultra-wealthy who already enjoy a smorgasbord of tax loopholes not available to the rest of America, while causing our national debt to skyrocket even further. Meanwhile, the middle class families didn’t fare well from the cuts. Families lost the important individual exemptions that account for some of the cost of raising children. With that gone, the doubling of the standard deduction is partly or completely offset. At the same time, the tax law removed an estimated 13M more Americans from health coverage. We didn’t save a dime with this. Instead, we have simply passed the costs of their healthcare onto us at the state and local level and in increased insurance premiums and medical costs.
The cuts are counter-productive to the economy in the long run. The reality is no tax cut will help the 10-12M Americans of working age who aren’t working or looking for work to get and keep a job.
The majority in Congress and the Administration, who call themselves fiscal hawks, have caused the national debt to soar during a time when the overall economy is strong. The only explanation for their actions - and one some candid legislators have actually acknowledged - is that they rewarded their wealthy donors. We need new leadership in Washington, from outside the political class, who will stand for the people and who won’t be beholden to Washington’s big money politics. That’s why I want to serve us there. We need fundamental reform in healthcare that allows every American affordable, timely access to it, and we need to elect leaders who won’t play the D.C. money game and who will be a voice for every South Dakotan, not just those wealthy enough to write the big checks.
And we need to invest again in infrastructure and in getting and keeping those not in the workforce back to work again through job training, and my Job Corps for Felons proposal, in which we treat the needs of the nonviolent offenders and get them the education and job skills they need to be productive members of society.
We need to increase efforts to close the graduation gap between poor kids and well-off kids. It’s greater in South Dakota than in any other state. And it’s costly. For every child who doesn’t graduate from high school, taxpayers pay $388,000 over that person’s lifetime.
I dream of an America that works for all of us again, in which every child has the opportunity to feast at the table of American opportunity once again, because America works best when it works for all of us.
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