Borrowing from Garfunkel and Webb

After breaking up with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel sang a beautiful song written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote several of Glen Campbell’s hits (“Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), The 5th Dimension’s “Beautiful Balloon,” and “MacArthur Park,” which was a huge hit in the 1970s as sung by the actor Richard Harris.

The song is called “All I Know.” The first stanza is as follows:

I bruise you, you bruise me
We both bruise too easily
Too easily to let it show

I love you and that is all I know

This song is intended as a love song between two people who often fight and have hurt feelings as a result. But, I would like to use this stanza as a metaphor for relationships between all of us in civil society that have gone awry.

We are too easily bruising each others’ feelings. We are also taking offense too easily, when we should not or should listen to hear rather listen to react. I was highly disappointed with the tenor of the most recently concluded political convention, when hateful remarks were the norm and not the exception. I am hoping that the one next week will be the antithesis.

As an independent voter, I don’t care if someone is conservative on a viewpoint or liberal. What I found is many people have a mixture of opinions. To this point, Ivanka Trump told the GOP audience she is an independent voter. And, she like me joins many unaffiliated Americans.

Yet, what I do not like is the lack of civil discourse and use of information which is not steeped in facts. The latter is a key reason I religiously check the two fact checking organizations summaries. But, let me set that aside for now and get back to the civil discourse.

I do not agree with everything the politicians or parties support. My disagreement may be material or it may be in emphasis. For example, the President has done a commendable job, but I am disappointed that he did not move forward on the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee’s report, he tends to like the use of drones where we need more governance, while he has moved the ball forward on climate change he is too fond of fracking, and he did not collaborate more with a highly uncollaborative and obstinate Congress, e.g.

What I can tell you is neither party has all of the solutions and sometimes are not asking the right questions. Neither party should be smug that their way is the only way or even the right way, especially with funding that fuels their opinions. Again, I don’t mind a conservative or liberal view, but let’s work off the right data and do so civilly, respecting each other’s opinions. And, let’s work with real solutions and not what easily fits on a bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are not policy, they are advertisements.

The debt is a huge problem. Climate change is a huge problem. Water resources are a huge problem. Poor gun governance is a huge problem. Poverty is a huge problem as is the declining middle class. Civil rights for all citizens, especially those most disenfranchised, are lacking in too many places. Infrastructure needs are paramount and fixing them will create jobs. Terrorism is important, but combatting it must be holistic and involve all of us.

Building actual and proverbial walls are not the answers. We must reach out to each other and solve these problems as the diverse Americans we are. No American is more American than the next. And, no less, either. So, let’s civilly discuss the issues.

Our declining middle class – an International Monetary Fund perspective

On PBS Newshour last night, a news report on the findings by the International Monetary Fund of the declining middle class in America was discussed. Judy Woodruff interviewed the Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde. Below is a link to the interview. The IMF findings support the concerns raised by several, which indicate the US middle class has declined from 60% in the 1970s to 50% today, a precipitous drop.

She notes that a vibrant, spending middle class has been a key to the economic success of America, as the wealthy do not spend as much and the people in the lower class have less money to spend. She notes this spread creates polarization which leads to mediocre economic growth. One of the things she notes is the aging demographics and the role they play on our economy.

The U.S. population is aging, like in other economies of the world, and, as a result, the participation of active workers in the economy is declining. Now, we cannot stop the course of time, but what policies can do is encourage people who are not joining the workplace, the job market, to actually do so.

And I would point to a couple of policies. One is support given to women. And, by that, I mean maternity leave policy that would help them face the decision of, do I stay or do I go? Second, child care support, and not just child actually, but the kind of support that would help families look after a child or look after an elderly, because, with aging, we will have to support more parents or grandparents.”

She also mentioned two other policies that would aid in our economy. One is the earned income tax credit. She said there seems to be bipartisan support to do something that would help low-income wage earners. The other is an increase in the minimum wage. This would help those in service jobs at least garner more income which would go directly into spending. I like the fact she reiterated a Ted talk theme by a venture capitalist, that when people consume more, manufacturers have to make more and, as a result, have to hire more. In short, consumers create jobs.

She was also asked about today’s Brexit vote and was hopeful the British citizens would vote to remain in the European Union. Since she has been in her position, I have found her to be a voice of reason about our world’s economy and someone who we should listen to. Her comments above are no exception.


Middle class to poverty – these voices need to be heeded

Politicians are beginning to talk about our poverty problems in the United States, but do not fully grasp what that entails. They do not want to highlight their role in making it so, nor distinguish where their other policy provisions are antagonistic to helping. They feel more comfortable talking about our middle class, which has mostly been pushed downward, yet the same story could be said for their lack of understanding.

The lone voice who is hammering these issues home, which is a reason for his popularity, is Senator Bernie Sanders. Whether you agree with Bernie on his solutions or not, he is talking about the issues that effect us, rather than sensationalizing issues that are less important or feeding an extreme base of fervent voters. So, he deserves kudos for driving home what Americans are experiencing.

Here are few observations from this independent voter, who votes for both Democrats and Republicans. I do tend to vote for collaborators and politicians that can help get things done rather than party, yet I must confess the new GOP has fewer of those folks than they used due to more strident elected officials due to gerrymandering and money. This is a key reason the GOP is in such disarray at this point.

  • You cannot be for helping the middle and poverty classes and not invest in our country. Our infrastructure is in need of upkeep and repair and with interest rates so low, we are letting the ideal time pass. Plus we have deteriorated assets that could be repurposed in various communities.These investments are proven job creators and that was supposed to be mission one in this Congress.
  • You cannot be for helping the middle and poverty classes and not support the Affordable Care Act which, while imperfect and needing improvements, is working pretty well. This is especially true in our sharing economy, where independent contractors can buy coverage. I saw that Congress is suing the president over something else on the ACA. Mr. Speaker, do the country a favor and give it a rest.
  • You cannot be for helping the middle and poverty classes and not favor following many states’ leads and increasing the minimum wage to a living wage of $10 per hour, at the very least. Some cities are doing more, but this bipartisan favored play would help people.
  • You cannot be for helping people without enabling the community college system to help teach and retrain folks. Tennessee has a good idea in paying for two years of community college and the President is paying attention. This has merit for the rest of the country.
  • You cannot be for helping people and ignore climate change and our growing water problem, which is not just short-term. Every major science organization in the US supports climate change as a concern and our influence on it. The fastest growing jobs in energy are in solar energy which has more jobs than coal. Wind and solar are not water intensive energy sources, such as burning fossil fuels or nuclear power, so we must be mindful of water for all.
  • You cannot be for helping people and then restrict their rights to vote when we should be making it easier for them. The only rampant election fraud is paid for by the significant funders who invest in candidates wanting a return on such investment. We must amend our constitution to clearly state money does not equal free speech and change our election laws to make things fair, less costly and accessible to all not just voters you like.

I have other thoughts, but these will do for now. These issues translate party affiliation and affect us all. We need to ask our candidates about these issues and if they do not respond well, do not vote for them. Follow Bernie’s lead as he is on the right track. You may not like his answers, but he is speaking about the right questions.

If leaders want to help the middle class, let’s start with a raise

Having been a human resources consultant, manager and supervisor for over 33 years, let me state a truism. There is always a reason for employers to want to depress salary increase budgets. The reasons vary over time, but employees have been continuously counseled on their employer’s need for holding down the salary increase budget. So, if we really want to help the middle class in America, we could start by giving people deserved raises. I am not talking about an across the board same percentage raise for everyone, but let’s begin with freeing up a little more of a salary increase budget and leverage those dollars wisely.

Having seen this issue from the three perspectives noted above, it is truly amazing how much more money can be allocated to employees if you go from a 2.0% or 2.5 salary increase budget to a 3%, 3.5% or 4% budget. These extra one-half percentage points will permit further delineation between good and average performers and those who are further beneath their market salary median, which is the goal for most employers’ compensation plans. Middle class Americans have been treading water for several years now and it is long over due to begin to pay them more than we have.

One of the dilemmas for employees in a down market or with a struggling employer, is the employee downsizings are done in concert with the salary increase budget. What do I mean by this? If you have a salary increase budget of 3% of payroll and do not let people go, the supervisors will manage to the 3% giving “less than meets expectations” employees below 3% increases with some poor performers getting 0%. This will enable the better performers or the relatively underpaid good performers to be allotted more than 3%. As a sidebar, one constant challenge with this is everyone believes they are above average, which is quite difficult to be true.

However, if a company decided to downsize letting their lesser performers go – the ones who would get the 0% increases – then with the same 3% budget, the better performers will have to get less as the 0% increase employees have been let go. In essence, the company has moved the pay bar median downward and has to force fit the performance process to meet the budget. Which means the better performers will get less and the average performers will get below 3%. And, when this process is done poorly (as it almost always is), the truly better performers are upset by being told they are only “meets expectations” and by getting a lesser than expected raise.

Throughout the recession, many companies were forced to do this, so salaries became depressed. If you worked for a company in trouble and were a good performer for several years in a row, the dampened raises you received would compound, leaving you further behind. If you were an average performer, these steady Eddie’s were at best treading water or may have lost ground.

So, with the recovered and further growing economy, 2014 has been the start to the mindful retention of key employees. 2015 will likely see a greater need to retain key and average employees. More employees are updating their resumes and are looking for what the market has to offer. Employers would be wise to help the middle class by giving them a raise. I can assure them the cost of turnover in a bubbling economy is greater than those targeted salary increases if you don’t.


For employees who are testing the waters, two pieces of advice. Don’t leave a job until you have one. And, be prepared to leave (or consider options) if you ask your employer for an increase (either with or without another offer) and the employer says no to your request. If you are not prepared, then you may not want to ask the question. It goes back to every employee believes they are better than average, when that is difficult to be true. However, even solid performers have fallen behind, so your request may be justified. You should be able to make more money if you leave, but the questions are (1) do you want to leave and (2) are the skills you have more intrinsic (related to where you work) or extrinsic (easily transferable to a new employer)? If the former, you need to tread more carefully. Either way, be diplomatic in your request.