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Marco Rubio: Reclaiming Economic Opportunity for Everyone, an Excerpt from 'American Dreams'

By    |   Friday, 23 January 2015 03:38 PM

An excerpt from the book American Dreams: Reclaiming Economic Opportunity for Everyone by Marco Rubio

There is one more reason why the American Dream is slipping out of the reach of so many families. It is perhaps the hardest one for us to solve through government and yet one that we simply cannot ignore. And that is the decline of the family itself.

The American economy isn’t the only thing that has changed since my parents came to this country. Since the 1950s, marriage has declined and the number of babies born to single mothers has soared. We can no longer afford to ignore the connection between the health of families and the health of the American Dream.

It’s not even controversial: Social scientists, economists, think tanks from the left- leaning Brookings Institution to the right- leaning Heritage Foundation— everyone except too many politicians—agree that the health of the family is key to upward mobility. Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia studies marriage and its effects on income and well- being. He has found that young people are 44 percent more likely to graduate from college if they are raised by their married parents. Children from intact families are also about 40 percent less likely to have a child outside of marriage.

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These are the two things— getting an education and avoiding having children until marriage— that are increasingly key to achieving the American Dream. They are two critical parts of what social scientists call the “success sequence”: First get an education, then get a job, and don’t have children until you are married. Studies of census data show that if all Americans first finished high school, worked full- time at whatever job their education qualified them for, and then married at the same rate that Americans got married in 1970, the poverty rate would fall by an astonishing 70 percent. Young Americans who follow the success sequence have only a 2 percent chance of falling into poverty and a 75 percent chance of making it to the middle class.

Big government fails now more than ever because it ignores the importance of the success sequence and the family unit. It views the breakdown of families as a product of poverty— not as the cause of poverty. As a result it promotes antipoverty programs to support families instead of pro- family programs to eradicate poverty.

The fact remains that there is no government program— no matter how well intentioned or how generously funded— that has ever or could ever hope to achieve for American families what they can achieve by following the success sequence. It works regardless of whether you’re Hispanic, black or white, female or male, college or high school educated. It is, in short, proof of the proposition that in America you can still achieve success no matter who you are. So why isn’t the health of the family a bigger part of our conversation on saving the American Dream? Why aren’t politicians and Hollywood celebrities and everyone who claims to care about helping people get ahead in America shouting this from the rooftops?

For conservatives, talking about family structure inevitably leads to charges of racism, sexism or somehow trying to force our religious beliefs on others. Political experts ceaselessly lecture us that this is no way to win elections. Liberals seem to think questioning such issues is judgmental and unjust. On issues of family and values, the Democratic Party, the party of big government, becomes curiously libertarian.

This is no coincidence. Proponents are careful never to state it outright, but at the heart of the big- government approach are two central messages. The first is that government is our national family now. The role that husbands, wives and parents have traditionally played in the American family, this approach asserts, can now be safely assumed by government. When it comes to managing your health care, government— not the consumer— knows best. The same logic applies to the schools your children attend, how you save for your retirement and even how you choose the light bulbs for your home.

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The second unspoken message of the government- centered approach is the same message that those who believe income inequality is the central challenge of our time believe: that growing the economic pie to benefit the poor and middle class is no longer possible. The only just course is to use government to adjust the size of the slices.

The minimum wage debate is a good example of this. Not surprisingly, raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10, as the president has proposed, polls well— people like the idea of more money. But there’s no getting around the law of demand: When you make something— even labor— more expensive, people buy less of it. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 could cost as many as five hundred thousand jobs.

My family and I saw this firsthand last spring when we stopped for lunch at a Chili’s in Broward County, Florida. We were surprised to find what looked like an iPad on the table. The hostess who seated us explained that this mobile device would be our server. On it, we could tap items we wanted to order and pay the bill by swiping our credit card. It reminded me that a machine had just replaced at least one server in Florida. If we raise the minimum wage, companies like Chili’s will be driven to replace workers with machines sooner than planned.

In fairness, the same CBO report said that nine hundred thousand Americans would benefit from the wage hike. But who are those Americans? Rather than mothers and fathers struggling to support families, the data show that over 74 percent are childless adults or teenagers. Just 16 percent are married parents with kids. So it’s true that an increase in the minimum wage polls quite well, but in practice it would cost half a million American jobs. Some will benefit, but most won’t be the hardworking parents who need help the most. If the goal is to help those struggling the most in the current economy, there are better ways to go about it than raising the minimum wage.

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What are those ways? In response to calls to raise the minimum wage, conservatives typically double down on policies to grow the economy and create jobs. This approach is correct in the long term, of course. Economic growth is ultimately the answer. But in the meantime, people are hurting, the minimum wage is something people understand and they hear only that conservatives are against it.

Stagnant wages are a real concern to millions of Americans. We can’t just tell people what we are against. We also have to outline what we are for. We can find creative answers that help struggling families while staying true to our small- government principles. For instance, one way to help low- wage workers— both single moms struggling to support kids and single men in need of a foothold in the world of work— is to provide wage subsidies to targeted workers. I have proposed a targeted wage subsidy plan that I discuss in detail in Chapter Three. For now, suffice it to say that it would effectively boost the wages of workers without forcing the cost on employers.

Yes, it is government help for struggling families. But it would not have the job- killing effects of mandating that employers pay employees more than the market will bear. Yes, it involves government spending, but primarily by reallocating money we are already spending. Most important, it is the right thing to do, not just for struggling American families, but for the good of the country as a whole.

The American economy has changed, but our government has not only failed to change with it, it has made the challenges of the new economy worse. Jose and his family are living examples of this. Big government’s complicated rules are keeping him from going back into business for himself. Its tax and regulatory policies are crushing innovation and investment. Its commitment to protecting the educational status quo does nothing to help Jose acquire the skills he needs for a better job. And its stale ideas, like increasing the minimum wage, don’t help Jose realize the American Dream. They just define the dream down.

Reprinted from the book American Dreams: Reclaiming Economic Opportunity for Everyone by Marco Rubio with permission of Sentinel, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) 2015 by Marco A. Rubio.

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There is one more reason why the American Dream is slipping out of the reach of so many families. It is perhaps the hardest one for us to solve through government and yet one that we simply cannot ignore. And that is the decline of the family itself.
marco rubio, american dreams, reclaiming economic opportunity
Friday, 23 January 2015 03:38 PM
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