Voters have power to affect economy


University of Kentucky student Shannon Frazer, pictured in the Kernel office on 10/14/09. Photo by Ed Matthews

My friend told me a heart-wrenching and slightly disturbing story the other day.

As he was getting out of his car at the grocery story last week, he spotted an elderly man in a wheelchair sitting in the parking lot. The man had a nasal cannula and a sign, tied with strings, around his neck that read “laid off.”

My friend went on to deduce that either someone dropped off the man to sit in the parking lot to collect money (in which case, someone should have called social services) or the man drove there himself, got into his own wheelchair and sat and waited for people to give him their money.

Either way, this scene is an example of the desperation people are feeling because of the unsteady economy and job crisis.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, the U.S. unemployment rate in September 2010 was 9.6 percent. A household survey estimated that 14.8 million people are unemployed in the U.S., which has stayed relatively consistent throughout September.

The fact that so many are still unemployed is discouraging for college students who are about to enter the workforce, and the future doesn’t look so bright, either.

An Oct. 20 article from U.S. News and World Report laid out expected changes from Social Security as early as next year. Because of the lack of inflation, the Social Security administration announced that “there will be no cost of living adjustment for seniors.”

The article estimated that by 2037, much of the Social Security trust fund will run out, which means 20- and 30-somethings today “may never see all of the money they pay into the system.”

AARP, the organization that represents retired Americans, has said some major changes should be expected in the coming decades, such as instituting higher taxes for those with higher incomes and delaying retirement age to 68.

The take-home message: Young workers need to start saving up on their own money earlier than ever.

These anticipated changes by the government won’t entirely cover people of retirement age.

While that may be hard for the college community to hear, at least age provides a leg up for that population in job searching. Thank goodness employers still need and hire young people. But the news equates to little more than tough luck for people like the guy in the grocery store parking lot.

I realize the magnitude of the problem, and I understand that one solution can’t remedy America’s financial troubles overnight, but this is why we need to take responsibility for who we elect into office in the next election. Those officials will be responsible for deciding how government funds will be delegated and where new jobs should be created for years to come.

Candidates can’t get caught up in petty topics and mudsling their way into office, as many of the current attack ads on television depict. Instead, they should focus their energy on issues that matter and affect people now and in the future, like unemployment and Social Security. (Yes, even college students will have to worry about that some day.)

And even if you’re a member of the camp that says people who beg for money in parking lots brought their circumstances on themselves, you need to vote for government officials who mirror your views and who won’t allocate funds for an issue you don’t feel deserves funding.

Ideally, the day will come when there won’t be a need for people to sit in grocery store parking lots asking for money, but there needs to be progress in the meantime to reach that goal. Your vote could bring on that progress.