Friday, 29 September 2023

Baumann: Will Lake County supervisors be penny wise, but pound foolish?

I read with interest recent letters from Doug Harris and Dr. David Rogers urging support for an hourly wage increase for In-Home Supportive Services, or IHSS, workers.

IHSS is Lake County's largest employer with 1,800 workers. At their current wage, a full-time IHSS worker earns less than $23,000 a year, hard enough for an individual but most IHSS workers are also family providers.

Consequently, there is a high turnover rate. Hiring and training new workers is more expensive than keeping skilled workers. Harris and Rogers make solid cases for how a modest IHSS wage increase would economically benefit the entire county.

In “Austerity, the History of a Dangerous Idea,” economist Mark Blyth documents how, for the past 40 years, our government has practiced austerity economics ("belt tightening") by reducing spending on programs that help most Americans, while increasing corporate welfare in the form of huge subsidies and giving tax breaks to the wealthy ("trickle down"). Austerity economics is "penny wise, pound foolish" made into national policy.

No matter which party holds power in Washington, austerity economics has been practiced for four straight decades, with disastrous results for the average American. While corporate and Wall Street profits have shot through the roof, workers wages have stagnated, failing to keep up with inflation, so that someone in the same income bracket has less buying power today than they did 20 years ago.

What drives an economy? People spending money. What happens when people have less to spend? Economic depression.

No economy can be "belt tightened" into prosperity. That stuff "trickling down" is not prosperity.

Austerity economics is good for making the wealthiest even more wealthy, but for the rest of us … it does not work.

So, yes, even a modest raise in hourly wage for 1,800 workers would benefit Lake County's economy overall, because every penny of the additional four million will likely be spent here in Lake County, on necessities.

Lake County only pays 16 cents on the dollar toward IHSS. The other 84 cents comes from federal and state – that’s outside money coming into our county, an infusion of fresh blood.

The economic case is clear – raising the hourly wage of 1,800 workers would inject many more millions into our local economy annually, save money by helping IHSS keep trained staff already on board, and cost Lake County only 16 cents on the dollar.

The alternative to IHSS is nursing homes, which cost taxpayers much more. IHSS enables our elderly to remain in their own homes, surrounded by their community, while saving taxpayer dollars. IHSS provides seniors with a higher quality of life, at less cost. This is a no-brainer.

People who cut corners on small costs (saving pennies) can pay dearly in terms of large expenses later (pound foolish).

I hope our Board of Supervisors will see the wisdom in embracing a win-win proposal like the modest wage raise which IHSS is requesting.

Deb Baumann lives in Upper Lake, Calif.

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