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Are We There Yet? vol. 83

Earlier this week, I listened to two consecutive episodes of The Daily while shuttling kids to activities.  The topics were completely different but one of my take-aways was a concern about our ability to overcome challenges as a society.

The first episode described a county board meeting in Dare County, North Carolina.   This county, in the Outer Banks, has suffered severe flooding regularly which is hampering efforts to keep the residents there safe.  Fire trucks and ambulances are regularly cut off from reaching large parts of the county. The solution, other than everyone relocating, is to pump in sand from the ocean to build up the island. It’s a costly proposition at $14 million every 5 years. At the board meeting, the county residents, including part-time residents with beach homes, were fairly irate that they might have to foot this bill through higher taxes. They agreed with the solution, but many felt that because the Federal government is the owner of the beach, they should foot the bill. It wasn’t surprising that having someone else pay was more ideal than paying yourself but the way they referred to the government seemed to me as if they thought of the government as not representing all of us but a separate entity with unlimited resources.  It reminded me of the age-old phrase my parents used on me – “do you think money grows on trees.”  

The second episode was on childcare and whether the government should have a role.   The interviewer visited to Greensboro, North Carolina to interview families with young children.  While I knew that childcare was expensive, I somehow thought it might be a bigger problem in high-cost areas like the DC metro area.  But that is not the case. He interviewed two families, one with two children and a household income of about $70,000 and one with three children and a household income of $110,000. Their childcare costs were approximately $25,000 and $34,000 respectively.  Childcare represented about a third of their income before tax and probably 40% to 45% after-tax and was more than two times the cost of their mortgage payments.  At the same time, the childcare workers are paid $12 per hour.  One worker noted that she had a job at Starbucks as well because Starbucks paid $15 per hour and provided health insurance.  She said, “I make $10 an hour to shape the future of children and $15 an hour to hand somebody a cup of coffee.” 

Under the infrastructure bill, the government is proposing $250 billion of spending over 10 years to try to help this situation.  The idea would be that a family’s childcare costs would be capped at 7% of their income.  My purpose today is not to debate how the government could deliver this service but on the perceptions of people, especially those who benefit from the legislation. When the interviewer asked two families about their thoughts about the proposed legislation, they were not aware of the proposal.  He explained the proposed legislation and noted to them that their childcare costs would drop by $20,000 and $25,000, respectively. The reaction of one of the families was not very positive.  Their concern was that government involvement means higher taxes and more rules that might affect what their child was learning and that they would rather pay the higher cost than have the government involved even though they had given up the dream of having another child, going on vacation, etc. because of the high cost of childcare. The other family was less opposed but still very skeptical and these reactions were similar to the reactions of most of the people with whom he spoke.  

I found the segment to be interesting, but my real focus is on the fact that in both segments, no one was viewing the government as being us and representing us but some entity that had its own goals and objectives that likely did not align with their own.  Like many of you, I do have concerns about government spending and the borrowing that now seems to always accompany the spending. But I do think that a functioning government is really important to a healthy society and that there are challenges that the private sector will not and cannot address so government is necessary.   If too many of us don’t believe that government can help, I wonder how we solve some of the huge challenges that we are facing.

 This week’s selection is:

BOOK:

Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America by Scott Borchert

The plan was as idealistic as it was audacious—and utterly unprecedented. Take thousands of hard-up writers and put them to work charting a country on the brink of social and economic collapse, with the aim of producing a series of guidebooks to the then forty-eight states—along with hundreds of other publications dedicated to cities, regions, and towns—while also gathering reams of folklore, narratives of formerly enslaved people, and even recipes, all of varying quality, each revealing distinct sensibilities. Scott Borchert’s Republic of Detours tells the story of this raucous and remarkable undertaking by delving into the experiences of key figures and tracing the FWP from its optimistic early days to its dismemberment by the House Un-American Activities Committee. We observe notable writers at their day jobs, including Nelson Algren, broke and smarting from the failure of his first novel; Zora Neale Hurston, the most widely published Black woman in the country; and Richard Wright, who arrived in the FWP’s chaotic New York City office on an upward career trajectory courtesy of the WPA. Meanwhile, Ralph Ellison, Studs Terkel, John Cheever, and other future literary stars found encouragement and security on the FWP payroll.