Saturday, May 12, 2012

My review of The Life of Julia

I don't know how many of you have heard about President Obama's new slideshow on his website, but I saw it yesterday, and I was pretty astonished at it.  Not only was it well made, but it was really distressing.

It is a slideshow about Julia's life.  Not really her entire life, but some of the milestones in her life where President Obama's policies have made an impact in her life.  It then goes on and says how Mitt Romney would make her life worse if he becomes president.

Anyway, I will go through each slide, writing what each is, and discuss my thoughts on each:

Age 3
Under President Obama: Julia is enrolled in a Head Start program to help get her ready for school.  Because of steps President Obama has taken to improve programs like this one, Julia joins thousands of students across the country who will start kindergarten ready to learn and succeed.
Under Mitt Romney: The Romney/Ryan budget could cut programs like Head Start by 20%, meaning the program would offer 200,000 fewer slots per year.

My thoughts: Head Start is a preschool-like program for the poor to help their children prepare for kindergarten.  I have had one child in this program, and they really enjoyed it.  The teacher visited our apartment and taught my daughter for one hour each week - well, taught is not the right word.  The teacher and my daughter played for an hour with educational toys.  It was pretty beneficial for my daughter.

My problems with this is that it means that there will be more poor people, otherwise it would not be needed, because there would be more families who could not afford preschool.  If there are more poor people, that means that there will be less money coming into the government, which means that there will be no way to pay for this.  If they want to keep this, the government will either need to increase taxes or cut the program.

I don't see this being a long-term solution or even a long-term possibility.  Although the Head Start program is a great program, by expanding it without showing how it will be funded is a recipe for disaster for the program.

I understand that this is to help children perform better in school, but my concern is that with the focus on performance starting when they are in kindergarten, children will hate school before they are even in high school.  That is not to say that many kids don't hate school before high school, but I believe that we will see a higher dropout trend when the kids who are in early elementary school now enter high school.  The amount of stress they experience to be better students will be more than they want, and they will just leave.

Age 17
Under President Obama: Julia takes the SAT and is on track to start her college applications.  Her high school is part of the Race to the Top program, implemented by President Obama.  Their new college and career-ready standards means Julia can take the classes she needs to do well.
Under Mitt Romney: The Romney/Ryan budget would cut funding for public education to pay for tax cuts for millionaires.

My thoughts: First of all, there are no career-ready standards.  Studies by the government have shown that without a college degree, you will make about $1 million less over a lifetime than those who do have one.  With the focus that employers place on having a college degree, there really isn't any career-ready standards the government can put in place to ensure high school kids can get a job right out of high school - not even with the government which would implement these standards.

Although President Obama's words in this are very nice, they fail to state what the standards would be, or what they would include.  Would these standards be good enough for a community college, or Harvard?  Or would they even be required, because if they are required, that would add to that amount of time and classes high school students would need to take, or they would take the place of fun classes, which would add to the stresses students would have.

And, by the way, if you would like to know what happens to children who are forced to only take required courses in school and not allowed to take fun classes, see the suicide rates in Japan and China.  Students in those countries are required to take loads of classes and cram schools so they can be the best students and get into the best colleges.  I do not want that type of stress being put on my children.

Age 18
Under President Obama: As she prepares for her first semester of college, Julia and her family qualify for President Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit - worth up to $10,000 over four years.  Julia is also one of millions of students who receive a Pell Grant to help put a college education within reach.
Under Mitt Romney: The American Opportunity Tax Credit would be allowed to expire, and Pell Grant funding would be slashed for 10 million students.

My thoughts: I find it interesting that Julia receives both the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Pell Grant.  If you want to receive the Pell Grant, you (and in Julia's case, her parents) need to make a little in yearly income to qualify.  That contradicts with the tax credit.  If you want a tax credit, you need to make enough that you qualify for it.  If you make nothing, you get no tax credit, but you get the Pell Grant.

A tax credit basically is another deduction that you can claim on your IRS taxes.  It just means that you won't need to pay the IRS as much as would otherwise have paid.  If you get a refund from the IRS, you will not receive any additional money by claiming the tax credit.

So, in this case, it means that somehow Julia was able to be rich enough for the tax credit and poor enough to qualify for the Pell Grant at the same time.  It's not possible.

As for the amount of money the Pell Grant gives, if you qualify for the entire amount, you will receive $5,500 for the entire school year (Fall to end of Summer semesters).  That is broken up in half, with each used for the Fall semester and Spring semester.  So, you get $2,750 for the Fall semester, and $2,750 for the Spring semester.  Is that enough to pay tuition?  No.

I qualify for the entire amount, and it covers the tuition for the local community college.  It does not even cover the tuition (not including fees, books, or other expenses) for any other school in the state.  It does not even cover the tuition for any of the online schools (University of Phoenix, Western Governor's University, etc).

For the tax credit, it only gives a credit for up to $10,000 over four years.  That comes out to $2,500 for each year, or the equivalent of less than the tuition for one semester.  In other words, you only get a credit for about 1/4 of what you paid, but you don't get that money back, you just get to pay the IRS a little less.  And for those who would use that credit, I doubt they would be struggling financially to make ends meet.

President Obama's statement also states that the tax credit and Pell Grant will help put a college education within reach.  So, what he's really saying is that in order to go to school, Julia will need to take out loans, because it is not possible to attend without doing that.  In essence, he is encouraging Julia (and all of us) to take out student loans to go to college, which loans are almost impossible to dismiss, and create a strenuous burden on those entering the workforce.

Age 22
Under President Obama: During college, Julia undergoes surgery.  It is thankfully covered by her insurance due to a provision in health care reform that lets her stay on her parents' coverage until she turns 26.
Under Mitt Romney: Health care reform would be repealed - Romney says he'd "kill it dead."

My thoughts: As of right now, most insurance carriers let the children stay on the insurance plan until they are 25.  The provision in the health care reform will help some, but not a large amount of people.  But there is a caveat: if you get married, you are off the parents' insurance.  So, stay single until you turn 26, my friends, unless...

Your parents do not carry insurance!  In that case, this provision means absolutely NOTHING to you!  If your parents unemployed, or they cannot afford health insurance, you don't need to worry about staying single.

Age 23
Under President Obama: Because of steps like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act, Julia is one of millions of women across the country who knows she'll always be able to stand up for her right to equal pay.  She starts her career as a web designer.
Under Mitt Romney: He has refused to say whether he would have vetoed or signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

My thoughts: I agree with equal pay, but this should be given credit where credit is due: Congress.  Congratulations, congresspeople, on actually passing something!  Hopefully they will be happy for receiving some credit and will start working.

Age 25
Under President Obama: After graduation, Julia's federal student loans are more manageable since President Obama capped income-based federal student loan payments and kept interest rates low.  She makes her payments on time every month, keeping her on track to repay her student loans.
Under Mitt Romney: Under the Romney/Ryan budget, interest rates on federal student loans would be allowed to double, affecting Julia and 7.4 million other students.

My thoughts: At least we have confirmation that President Obama requires that students start off their adult lives with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars in debt.  This debt cannot be dismissed in most cases, and even when it is, you must be paying the debt consistently for at least 20 years.

I am not one who says we should just get rid of current student debt.  I think that students should pay, but I think that making it impossible to dismiss is incredibly cruel, especially if you cannot find a job.  Yes, you can fill out a form for a deferral or forbearance, but they have a cap on how many of those you can fill out, which means that if you go through several extended episodes of unemployment, you will have no options available to you.  The government will take all assets, garnish wages and savings, and even throw you in prison if you cannot pay.

Anyway, they are also assuming that having an education guarantees you a steady and good-paying job.  That is not based in the real world.  I personally know many individuals with degrees (from undergraduate to post doctorate) who cannot find jobs, and even when they do, the jobs are not guaranteed and the pay is meager - well, meager based on what they used to make.

If you have a graduate-level degree, you typically are in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if you cannot find a job which allows you to make the monthly payments (in many cases, it's more than a house payment), you are screwed.  I know of several individuals who have lower-paying jobs and have tried to work with the government agencies overseeing the debt, and the agencies will not work with them to make manageable payments.

I guess that according to this slideshow, if you get an education, you will automatically be able to make enough money so everything is great.  Oh, man, I wish it was that easy.

Age 27
Under President Obama: For the past four years, Julia has worked full-time as a web designer.  Thanks to Obamacare, her health insurance is required to cover birth control and preventive care, letting Julia focus on her work rather than worry about her health.
Under Mitt Romney: Romney supports the Blunt Amendment - which would place Julia's health care decisions in the hands of her employer - and repealing health care reform so insurance companies could go back to charging women 50% more than men.

My thoughts: Maybe I am missing something, but isn't employer healthcare decided upon by the employer?  When I worked for a consulting firm, my employer decided who the healthcare provider was (although the owners asked for our input prior to choosing).  I do not understand what the problem with that aspect of the Mitt Romney statement is.

As for the rest of the Mitt Romney statement, I would think that since the employer is not required to stay with any insurance company, that if the terms were not acceptable to the employees, they employer would change to another company which would offer acceptable terms.  Meaning that if an insurance company started charging 50% more for women than for men, the employer (to ensure that the female employees would be happy and stay there) would switch to a more acceptable insurance carrier.

Insurance carriers would rather charge more for everyone than to be seen as charging more for one gender.

Age 31
Under President Obama: Julia decides to have a child.  Throughout her pregnancy, she benefits from maternal checkups, prenatal care, and free screenings under health care reform.
Under Mitt Romney: Health care reform would be repealed.

My thoughts:  All of those things are currently covered by Medicaid.  That is not something new that was introduced in the health care reform.  Actually, all this is available to those who are poor - unlike Julia, who is making enough to not qualify for this, because she has health insurance through her employer.

Age 37
Under President Obama: Julia's son Zachary starts kindergarten.  The public schools in their neighborhood have better facilities and great teachers because of President Obama's investments in education and programs like Race to the Top.
Under Mitt Romney: The Romney/Ryan budget could force steep cuts in federal funding for schools in all 50 states.

My thoughts: Better facilities and great teachers are not in public schools residing in low-income neighborhoods, but rather in high-income neighborhoods.

Why is that?  It's simple: residents in low-income neighborhoods tend to focus on trying to stay alive and making enough to pay the bills.  The kids are often left alone without sufficient parental involvement in their activities.  The children frequently hang out with unsavory individuals (drug dealers, gangs, pimps, etc) who can shower them with love, affection, understanding, friendship, and many other things which they desire.  That in turn leads to lower attendance in school, failing test scores, and eventually schools missing federal testing benchmarks (if they miss those, they do not get funding).  That lack of funding results in lower teacher pay and outdated facilities.

Students from higher-income neighborhoods tend to have involvement with their studies through parents, nannies, tutors, etc.  They have what they need and many things which they desire, so they can look at the big picture and envision life as they meet their future educational goals.  Their test scores tend to be higher, and they meet educational benchmarks.  Their schools get all funding options available, and thus they get better teachers (higher pay usually equates to better teachers) and newer facilities.

Age 42
Under President Obama: Julia starts her own web business.  She qualifies for a Small Business Administration loan, giving her the money she needs to invest in her business.  President Obama's tax cuts for small businesses like Julia's help her to get started.  She's able to hire employees, creating new jobs in her town and helping to grow the local economy.
Under Mitt Romney: The Romney/Ryan budget could cut programs like the Small Business Administration by 20%.

My thoughts: I highly doubt that Mitt Romney would discourage tax cuts for small businesses, seeing that he has started many small businesses and understands the business aspect very well.  I do not know much about the tax cuts for small business that President Obama started, but I don't think this comparison holds any merit.

Age 65
Under President Obama: Julia enrolls in Medicare, helping her to afford preventive care and the prescription drugs she needs.
Under Mitt Romney: Medicare could end as we know it, leaving Julia with nothing but a voucher to buy insurance coverage, which means $6,350 extra per year for a similar plan.

My thoughts: I don't understand why Julia needs Medicare.  A voucher would be good enough because she should already have insurance through her business (the one she stared at age 42).  Medicare does not give very good coverage, and unless it is an emergency, Medicare will not cover the costs of treatment.

I guess Julia may want to have Medicare as a secondary insurance, but as a primary one, it is not the best choice.  She would get a lower premium, but if anything happened that was not covered (which is a lot), she would be paying tens of thousands of dollars more than what she would have been paying had she gotten a voucher.

Age 67
Under President Obama: Julia retires.  After years of contributing to Social Security, she receives monthly benefits that help her retire comfortably, without worrying that she'll run out of savings.  This allows her to volunteer at a community garden.
Under Mitt Romney: Julia's benefits could be cut by 40%.

My thoughts: Just 40%?!?  I would cut it completely because she does not need it.  If she failed to save for her retirement, she should not be given a comfortable retirement.  Social Security will go bankrupt sooner or later, and as a member of the younger generation, I do not want it to go bankrupt when I'm too old to do something about it.

Julia should use her savings to live out a comfortable life.  She should not get more money from Social Security when she does not need it.

What I really do not like about this slideshow is that under President Obama, the government will always be there, making sure that we never have to be responsible for anything.  Yes, having that would make life easier, but it will make it so we never learn any responsibility.  We will always expect things to be given to us.  We will expect the government to dictate that the rich take care of all of us.

That is not the right way to live.  That kind of government will lead to this country becoming weak, slothful, and lazy.  The rich will flee to escape the high taxes which will be imposed on them, and the poor will never do anything - expecting the government to do it for them.  America will no longer be a land of innovation, but rather a land of the lazy.

The labor pool will shrink to nothing, because nobody will care about work, and a revolution will inevitably come.  This revolution will plunge the country into a civil war, just like that from 1861, but I fear that we will be unable to come together as the last time, because there will be no civil discourse nor compromise by either party.

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