Defining “personal responsibility” upward…
Generally, there’s nothing wrong with asking people to take responsibility for their actions to avoid social ills. Stop littering. Spay or neuter your pets. Vaccinate your children. Get up early enough to eat breakfast so you’re not so grouchy at work. If your diet is making you sick, change it. Under the circumstances, these are all reasonable things to ask.
On the other hand, if you’re asking something to “take responsibility” by doing something that’s either extraordinarily difficult or impossible, you’re either woefully uninformed or sort of a dick. You don’t ask people to “take responsibility” by rescuing neighbors from their burning home, scoring in the top 1% on the SAT, or baffling doctors by learning to walk despite a serious spinal injury. Run-of-the-mill “taking responsibility” should not require acts of extraordinary altruism, heroism, or genius.
How should we feel when Mitt Romney goes and says something like this:
These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of people pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
According to Romney, if your income isn’t high enough to pay federal income taxes, you’re apparently not taking “personal responsibility and care” for your life. Is it reasonable for Romney to ask people to earn enough that they’re paying income taxes—or is this just an example of out-of-touch dickery? [Spoiler Alert: It’s dickery.]
How long a work day would you need to put in at a minimum wage job to pay federal income taxes? Because it’s Romney’s comment, let’s use his family profile. We’ll have two parents, one of whom works.1 And let’s limit it to two children rather than Romney’s five to avoid an unseemly number of exemptions.
So we have four exemptions at $3,700 each plus the standard deduction of $11,600. So even without tax credits, you would need $26,400.
Because one spouse isn’t working, there is no child care tax credit. There could be up to $2,500 in education credits per child—but let’s say the kids are younger and go with the lower $1,000 child tax credit for both of them. So that’s a $2,000 credit. To owe taxes at this point, you’d need $19,000 in taxable income—or $45,400 in total income. This still a hair below the EIC phaseout in this case. So to hit zero exactly you would need a few more dollars to bring your annual income to $45,750.
In a given year, you have about 260 work days. Let’s say you work a full day on all of them. This means that any vacation, sick days, or holidays you want had better be paid. To make your $45,750, you need to bring in $174.62 a day. Let’s round that down to $174 to make the math work out more smoothly.
You’re earning the federal minimum wage: $7.25 an hour. To get to $174 a day, you’ll need to work for … 24 hours. Congratulations. You can sleep on the weekends. If you want to get down to an 8 hour day, you’ll need to earn at least $21.75. (You still have to work every day.) Good luck finding an early-career job that pays that well.
If you’re having trouble doing this, I’m sorry. But Mitt Romney isn’t. He thinks you need to take some personal responsibility and care for your life.
After I first posted this, somebody asked, “Why are we assuming the spouse doesn’t work?” We’re not assuming it. We’re stipulating it. There are three reasons for this. First, it’s Romney’s comment so he’d have no grounds to object to using his family’s single income model. Second, as soon as I send the hypothetical spouse to work, child care tax credits come into play and it takes even more hours for the family to earn enough to pay taxes. Third, I think people on the lower half of the income scale should be allowed to have single-earner families. ↩
"I don’t think the common person is getting it," she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. "Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.
"We’ve got the message," she added. "But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact."
I am often cynical about the idea of “moral leadership,” but it’s hard to find another explanation for this:
A new Public Policy Polling survey in Maryland finds a significant increase in support for same-sex marriage among African American voters following President Obama’s historic announcement two weeks ago. The referendum to keep the state’s new law legalizing same-sex marriage now appears likely to pass by a healthy margin. Here are some key findings:
-57% of Maryland voters say they’re likely to vote for the new marriage law this fall, compared to only 37% who are opposed. That 20 point margin of passage represents a 12 point shift from an identical PPP survey in early March, which found it ahead by a closer 52/44 margin.
-The movement over the last two months can be explained almost entirely by a major shift in opinion about same-sex marriage among black voters. Previously 56% said they would vote against the new law with only 39% planning to uphold it. Those numbers have now almost completely flipped, with 55% of African Americans planning to vote for the law and only 36% now opposed.
Teachers have to get a lot of training these days—many districts require teachers to have a Master’s degree. They go through a certification process that involves particular required courses, standardized testing, observation and evaluation. As much as people complain about the quality and focus of teacher training, one can’t deny that teachers do get specialized training.
Our country has gone a bit certification happy. Many jobs that used to be executed by family members or self-trained laypeople now require professional degrees and certifications. In California, one has to have something like 2000 hours of supervised training to be a hairdresser. Louisiana requires special certification to be a florist.
Still, many certifications seem like a good idea to most of us. Things like psychotherapy, nursing care, and home construction used to be done by moms and dads. Now we expect to have licensed therapists, nurses, and contractors do that work. Yet many in the homeschool movement would like people who have not completed highschool to be teachers.
Some certified teachers are terrible—no doubt this is true. However, few would argue that because a surgeon botched your kid’s heart operation, the next step would be to attempt the operation yourself on the dining room table.
It seems like a pretty big dis on teachers to suppose that anyone can teach. Even if they do have a mail-order curriculum. And maybe in some cases especially if they have a mail order curriculum.
I have a PhD and can’t do much math beyond basic algebra. How about you?
As compelling as the heart surgery analogy might be, as one of my undergrad professors used to say, “This is an empirical question.” There are plenty of methodological difficulties when studying a phenomenon as diverse as homeschooling, but if you’re going to argue that homeschooling parents are less effective than certified teachers, you have to explain why none of the research on homeschooling has ever found that to be true.
In Washington State, homeschoolers are required to take the same state tests as public school students. One of the pieces of data Washington collects is whether the homeschooling parent has a teaching certificate, and it turns out that being homeschooled by a certified teacher makes no difference in test scores. Similarly, early research on homeschooling compared high-regulation states (which, at the time, typically required homeschooling parents to have a teaching certificate) with lower-regulation states, and found no difference in child test scores based on parental qualifications. Presumably the same is not true for home heart surgery.
Do I worry about the academic quality of some people’s homeschooling? I totally do. But I also worry about the academic quality of any number of school situations, from inner-city public schools to ritzy Waldorf schools (with their weird philosophies) to ideology-driven private Christian schools (which aren’t required to hire licensed teachers either).
To address your final question: I have a Ph.D. too, and a husband who is comfortable teaching math through calculus. But more importantly, I am comfortable in my ability to outsource subjects I can’t teach myself - as the vast majority of homeschoolers do - through tutors, co-ops, and community colleges.