I'd like to begin this column with an apology to those who were happy I wasn't going to write anymore. Sorry, I didn't lie, but circumstances changed. So here I am again, speaking my piece, like it or not.
Any honest look at economic indicators will clearly show the economy is still weak, that any stock market rises are temporary at best, and that most of the issues that have been stifling economic growth for the last decade or more are still there.
Job growth numbers don't accurately reflect income. A rise in jobs that are predominantly in the service industries won't help the underlying weakness of the middle class and the reduction in its purchasing power. Even jobless statistics are misleading, as they don't count people who've given up the hunt and are now qualified for and receiving "Social Services benefits." They don't allow for people that have found work but for much less money than they made in their previous job. Those are not insignificant factors. Add them up and there are millions of dollars taken out of the economy, and all multiplied by lower tax collections and greater demands for public assistance.
I know it's popular to look at just New York and to make the case for state taxes driving industry and jobs to the South. In some cases, this might be true. But the facts are that most of those southern states have higher numbers of people collecting public assistance than we have here and by fairly large numbers. In fact, the worst overall economies in the country are generally in "Red States," Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and most of the rural areas in the rest of the classic south.
How ironic is it that all those "Red State" people are receiving all of those "Blue State" benefits they complain about. (These are facts by the way, not political dogma) Back to industry, the facts are that industry is leaving for cheap overseas labor and that includes non-union, "right to work" states. Yes, a few specific industrial plants were built in the United States for a variety of reasons, and yes, they went to the South, but overall the entire country, including the south, is losing our economic base to foreign countries. I doubt the hardest of the hard core truly expect Americans North or South to work for third world wages.
Health-care costs last year went up 150 percent, and have been running rate increases like that for many years. "Obamacare," as its detractors like to call it, isn't the cause it's the result of those increases. Unless our elected leaders are capable of exhibiting the courage to freeze all healthcare costs for a period of time while they figure out a long term fix, health care will continue to eat up huge piles of dollars we don't have to spend.
Social Security is having issues because the balance of those paying in and those collecting has become "topsy turvy" for the first time in its history. The Medicare portion is experiencing the same rise in costs as other health insurances but also saddled with that same imbalance of those paying in and those collecting benefits. These two issues are at least partly solvable by quite simply removing the cap for payroll deductions for Social Security and raising the percent used for Medicare to 2.5 percent from 1.5 percent. Those two simple changes would extend the viability of those two programs for a long time to come; perhaps even long enough for the system to self-correct the imbalances causing the issues.
Medicaid and other portions of the Welfare system are experiencing justifiable rises due to a crashing (or crashed) economy as well. Medicaid is just another healthcare system with the same rises in costs as the others, saddled with the usual inefficiencies of any government program. I'm not sure why so many have decided that welfare is increasing strictly due to laziness or those "milking the system" as opposed to an economy with not much to offer. Is there fraud in the system? Of course there is, as in any other government program, including disability Social Security. I hate to rain on other peoples parades, but if all the waste and fraud in all the systems were eliminated, you still couldn't reduce the costs enough without an increase of some sort in their funding. Currently we are paying less in income taxes than at almost any other time in recent history, and obviously, that has to change.
Everyone has their own ideas on how to fix things, but unless they address all of the issues involved, and include all of the people that need to be involved to initiate legitimate and intelligent compromise, I'm afraid we're in for a longer plunge toward that "fiscal cliff" everyone is talking about. This is not a Red State-Blue State issue. This is not a Democrat-Republican issue. Our economy is a United States of American issue. Nothing is going to change without truly bipartisan cooperation from everyone, coupled with enough knowledge to get beyond political diatribes and dogma and sound bites made for the campaign trail, not for governing.
For those in New York, wailing about how bad it is here, who routinely imply that things are better everywhere else but New York, you need to get out a little more. Yes, some places are better than here, and by here I mean Western New York, not all of New York, but it's that same way everywhere else too. You can't judge North Carolina just by Raleigh-Durham. You can't base your opinion of Georgia just on Atlanta. The facts are that every state has hot spots and low spots. You may not believe this, but many of those states are worse than here, lower taxes or not. My point is that New York has problems that are closely intertwined with National issues over which we have no control without cooperation from our entire government. Read a bit, study a bit, do some research.
We're in this together, or at least we should be. How about we use our hands to give each other a hand up instead of just for pointing fingers?
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org