Friday, May 14, 2010

Social Security for Students

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez lays out an example of exactly the kind of progressive social policy we need from our Democratic leadership. He wants the expansion of social security to cover college students.

This might seem off the wall, but in fact covering college students with social security benefits was a piece of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society legislation. From 1965 to 1981, if you were in college, you could apply for social security benefits. Of course, Grandpa Caligula killed it off when he took office. I'm not sure if it was before or after he tore the solar panels off the roof of the White House and began covert funding of the Contras.

Hertel-Fernandez makes a very strong case for this expansion, showing convincingly that higher education has become so incredibly expensive that a large number of young people are being forced out. Given that we have deindustrialized our work force in favor of "information technology," we are essentially dooming young people who are too poor to acquire a college education to a life of underemployment.

I do wonder what kind of response this proposal would receive if announced by the president or Congressional leaders. No doubt Republicans would oppose it, as they oppose everything else having to do with higher education and helping poor people. However, it might be the kind of proposal that could peel off the Maine senators and Scott Brown. Unfortunately, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson probably wouldn't support it.

What's disturbing is that these sorts of New Deal-esque proposals have not come from the Obama administration. Of course, he's a very moderate Democrat who has clear discomfort with using the power of government to help the poor in more than incremental ways.

On the other hand, these are precisely the sorts of policy proposals we need to get behind as progressives. It is a targeted and effective expansion of government that would make students' lives better and possibly also help turn them even more toward the Democrats than they already shown themselves to be in the 2008 elections.