An Appeal to My Friends Regarding H.J.R 6

My friends, I ask you today to consider Indiana House Joint Resolution 6, a bill before the Indiana legislature that would amend our state constitution to ban the recognition of any same sex partnership. The text of the bill reads:

Provides that only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. Provides that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.

I know many of my friends will agree with the first statement. Marriage is a religious term, and for you, you would prefer that the state not use this term in recognizing same-sex unions. While I disagree, I would like to instead focus your attention on the second sentence. The second sentence bars any same sex couple from enjoying the rights assigned to a married heterosexual couple under any name. I have spoken to many of you who oppose the government recognizing same-sex couples as married. In all cases that I remember, those who feel this way have had no issue with recognizing a same-sex couple as a civil union. The language of this bill would specifically deny those rights of married couples to a same-sex couple even if they agreed to call their relationship a civil union.

What does this mean for same-sex couples? There are a variety of rights that married couples enjoy that will be explicitly denied to these couples. Among these rights:

  • Filing of joint taxes
  • Veteran's disability
  • Domestic violence intervention
  • Joint parenting rights
  • Permission to make funeral arrangements for deceased spouse, including burial or cremation
  • Right to inheritance of property
  • Next-of-kin status for emergency medical decisions or filing wrongful death claims

Many of my friends feel that same-sex marriage is acceptable, and I agree with you. Many of my friends feel that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the rights of married couples, but should be assigned a different term from their religious definition of marriage, such as civil union. I am not aware of any of my friends who feel that same-sex couples should be specifically denied the rights assigned to their married counterparts. I am pleading with you today to consider the impact of this bill on same-sex couples in Indiana. I am pleading with you to contact your state representative and let them know that this bill does not represent your thoughts on the rights of same-sex couples.

Last Call for Google I/O

Google is running a series of contests this week to give away the last remaining tickets to the Google I/O developer conference. The 2011 conference sold out in record time, so for me, this is about the only way I'm going to have a chance to go. Yesterday was the start of the first challenge which focused on Android. Due to the time difference, the 30 minute "lightning" round 1 started during my normal lunch break, and I was able to quickly submit my answers. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail 30 minutes later informing me that I was one of 200 entrants to pass round 1 and move on to round 2.

For round 2, the objective was to create and submit an Android app that recreates the bouncing balls countdown clock seen on the Google I/O home page. Of course, today being St. Patrick's day, the clock is slightly changed to be formed of clover leaves blowing in the wind, but on non-holidays it is multicolored balls. Contestants had 22 hours to complete their app and submit, with the deadline being 9am pacific time this morning.

Now that the deadline has passed, I thought I would share my entry. I'm publishing both the source code and the APK file, so if you are curious how I made it, feel free to take a look.

Minimum Wage and Poverty

Unions, collective bargaining, and fair wages are getting a lot of press due to the attempts in several states to introduce Right to Work laws, eliminate collective bargaining for public employees, and generally reduce the power of unions. It got me curious about what the current rules were according to the Department of Labor's Fair Labor Standards Act. What are the minimum benefits that an employer must offer?

The first item that comes to mind is minimum wage. Effective July 24, 2009, the minimum wage was increased to $7.25 per hour. There are some caveats though. If you are under 20 years of age, the employer is permitted to pay as little as $4.25 per hour for the first 90 days of employment. This falls under the subminimum wage clauses of the FLSA. That's pretty convenient for employers who look to pickup temporary help during the summer when schools are out. A fairly shrewd employer could substitute these youths for regular employees during the summer months and cut their wage expenses nearly in half. The hourly rate is even lower for those who regularly accept tips. Employers of tipped employees (anyone who receives more than $30 in tips in a month) may pay an hourly wage of $2.13 per hour, so long as the total of tips and hourly wage for the hours worked in that month at least equals the minimum wage rate.

So let's say that you are single, and you are entering the workforce after graduating high school. You are 18 years old and on your own. You canvas the town and are able to find a job with a local business. The business owner is very shrewd, and is only willing to offer the absolute minimums since you have no prior experience and no higher education. The owner offers you $4.25 for your first three months, with a pay increase to $7.25 at the end of those three months. The business is closed on all federal holidays (9 days in 2011), and is also closed the friday after Thanksgiving. You will not receive pay for holiday closings. You are permitted to take 5 unpaid sick days with short notice, and 10 unpaid vacation days with a minimum of one month notice. The employer notifies you that you may work a maximum of 40 hours in a week, but indicates that those 40 hours will regularly be available.

So how does this first year go for you? First, let's assume you work all of the hours that are available to you in that year.

52 weeks in the year.
40 hours per week

13 weeks at $4.25 per hour = $2,210
37 weeks at $7.25 per hour = $10,730
2 weeks at $0 per hour (holiday closings) = $0

Your total pay for the year would be $12,940. According to the census bureau, the threshold for poverty in 2009 for an individual under the age of 65 was $11,161.

That's pretty bleak, but that is also assuming the best case scenario that you were able to work every day of the year. In the worst case scenario, where you exhausted all of your sick and vacation time at the $7.25 rate, your annual income would have been $12,070. Minimum wage is just barely keeping you above the poverty line.

Now imagine if you were coming out of high school with a pregnant girlfriend. You move in together, and the baby is born during the year. You are now a house of three. One of you stays home with the baby because the cost of childcare is greater than the wage you are able to earn. The 2009 threshold for poverty for a 3 person family was $17,098. You've worked a full-time job for a year and you are still under the poverty threshold.

I've seen several remarks indicating that Governor Mitch Daniels has indicated that $9 per hour is a livable wage. Unfortunately, I can't find any documentation of this quote, so take it with a grain of salt. Even so, a quick perusal of the job postings in a newspaper or online will show that $9 per hour is a fairly common offer from folks looking for appointment setting and phone support staff. How would that $1.75 increase in pay affect our earner? Let's assume that our worker gets that rate throughout the year, and again, isn't paid for holidays but otherwise works all the hours available.

$9 per hour x 50 weeks x 40 hours per week = $18,000 per year

That would put them above the poverty line for a family of three, but just barely. Keep in mind that this is gross pay too, not take home pay. This has to cover not just food, housing, and transportation, but medical benefits (likely not offered at this wage level), retirement savings, taxes, and all of the other expenses of life.

So what does it all mean? I don't pretend to know. In theory, the appropriate wage for a particular role is what the market will bear. We all want to save money though, so we encourage businesses to seek methods to cut costs by demanding lower prices. Labor is one option for cutting costs, and this can lead to reduced quality when those who are qualified to do a job are not willing to accept the wage offered, but those unqualified to do the job are willing to accept it.

It will be interesting to see how the legislative moves in progress in several states impact their local economies.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting

There has been a lot of discussion recently concerning federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The CPB is a non-profit, private organization created by the federal government in 1967, and is charged with the stewardship of federal funds for promoting public broadcasting. The lion's share of these funds are awarded to local television and radio broadcasters. A much smaller portion of those funds is awarded to companies like National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Both of these companies are private, non-profit media enterprises that generate content such as Car Talk, All Things Considered, Radiolab, Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, NOVA, and others.

According to CPB's 2009 Revenue report, the CPB had total revenue of $2,643,336,000. Of that total revenue, 81.9% came from non-federal sources, leaving 18.1% of the CPB's revenue coming from federal sources, or $478,443,816. In 2007, there were roughly 138 million federal tax payers in the US (the most recent number I could find). We don't all pay the same amount in taxes in the US, but if we did, that would work out to just under $3.47 from every federal tax payer going to the CPB.

Two of the biggest issues in politics today (or any day for that matter) are taxes and jobs. The tea party, and by extension republicans, have suggested that eliminating federal funding for the CPB is one method to help reduce overall taxation and move towards a balanced budget. This has met with a mixed response across party lines. Fans of NPR and PBS have expressed concern, and have taken to social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to plead for continued federal support of these organizations.

In my view, the majority of those pleading for continued support of the CPB are doing so because they enjoy the programming provided by NPR and PBS. I don't have any numbers to back this up, I'm basing this off of what I'm seeing from my social media streams, so this is hardly a scientific analysis. What may not be clear to these fans of NPR and PBS is how little of those federal funds are appropriated to the media enterprises. According to the CPB's Fiscal Year 2010 budget, $28,535,000 was allocated towards radio programming grants. According to NPR's records, federal grants make up around 2% of their annual revenue, which in 2010 were just over $184 million. So doing the math here, NPR received around $3.7 million in federal funds. Television is a similar scenario. The CPB allocates $71,587,500 in grants for television programming. I had trouble finding information on the portion of those grants that were awarded to PBS, but even if it is the full amount it represents a small percentage of the $571 million in total revenue that PBS received in 2010.

The funding to NPR and PBS represents a very small portion of the total funds the CPB distributes. The vast majority of funds are given as grants to local radio and television broadcasters. This is where the real impact of de-funding the CPB would be felt. By de-funding the CPB many broadcasters in rural locations who could not otherwise support their operations will go silent. These rural broadcasters are often one of only a handful of sources available in their area. Growing up, we didn't have access to cable at our home, as our home was in a very rural location. Satellite television involved very large dishes, not the Dish Network and DirecTV that you see today. The stations we could regularly receive at our home were our local PBS station, NBC, ABC, and CBS. Our home was certainly not as remote as what you might find in states farther north and west.

Given this analysis, I don't have a big problem with revoking funding to content producers, such as NPR and PBS. These media enterprises receive a very small portion of the federal funds allocated to the CPB. While any reduction in revenue is painful, to those pleading for continued funding based on their love of the programming, I say, make a bigger donation! I highly doubt that the revocation of funds to either of these media enterprises will result in the end of Sesame Street or Click'n'Clack. However, I do feel that the CPB provides an important service to Americans who do not represent a profitable investment to major network broadcasters. I do feel that revoking funds to local public broadcasters very likely might mean the difference between them staying on air or going off air. I do support the continued funding of these local broadcasters, and I hope that the CPB continues to receive funding to support them.

However, I hope that the CPB's mission is modified. Radio, in my opinion, is a medium on the death march. When do you listen to broadcast radio? At the home? Likely not. In your home, you are much more likely to be watching television or browsing the web. In your car? Maybe, or you might be listening to satellite radio, or your MP3 player. At work? Again, there has been a major shift towards streaming content over the web by office workers. Television, too, is not the media powerhouse it once was. I believe that the CPB's mission should be modified to help meet the president's call to improve broadband internet service to every American. By using the CPB's funding to retrofit local broadcasters with LTE data services (or some other data technology) more Americans will have ready access to broadband internet service. This will provide more than just a public media outlet, it provides access to the wealth of content on the web.

Jade Mason