What Made America Great, And Could Make It Great Again

I have been reading an excellent book, Once in a Great City by David Mariniss. This book tells about Detroit during the time period from the autumn of 1962 through the spring of 1964. This was a time when the auto industry was booming and Detroit was selling more cars than ever. It was also a period when Motown was beginning to take the music of Detroit out to the world. With good wages, strong labor unions and plenty of good jobs, the working men and women of Detroit enjoyed a higher standard of living. 

It was also a period in time when city and state political leaders from both parties, labor leaders, business leaders and leaders of the religious community all came together to show support for Martin Luther King Jr and civil rights. They cooperated to stage the largest march for civil rights that had been seen in the nation on June 23 1963. That march went off without any violence and following the march Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at Cobo Hall, the same speech that he made famous at a larger gathering two months later in Washington DC.

Also during the early 1960s, the nation’s space program was providing thrilling news about manned space flights and there was no doubt that the United States would fulfill President Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It was a period of optimism where Americans felt that there was nothing that this nation couldn’t accomplish. 

This story of Detroit could well have also been the story of Cleveland since Cleveland’s economy and demographics then were very similar to Detroit’s on a smaller scale.

I grew up in Parma during that period in time of the 1950s and 1960s and I remember this period of time very well. During that period in time Parma was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. But what made America great back then?

Like just about every family on my block in Parma, my father bought our house using a “G.I. Mortgage” that was made available with no down payments and low interest rates to veterans of the Second World War. My father worked in the post office when he bought that house. But he used the G.I. Bill to study marketing at Western Reserve University and left the post office for white collar jobs in marketing and advertising. His two brothers, who also bought houses in Parma, used the G.I. Bill to attend college and became lawyers. Two uncles on my mother’s side used the G.I. Bill to become engineers. The G.I. Bill literally built Parma and Parma Heights.   

But not every returning veteran went to college. Most fathers on my block worked in the auto plants, steel mills and other manufacturing plants in the area. But thanks to strong labor unions, they had secure jobs that paid wages good enough for those fathers to buy a house in the suburbs and to send their children to college. 

When I graduated from Valley Forge High School in 1966, over half of my graduating class went to college. For many, they were the first in their families to go to college. Back then attending college was very affordable for middle income families, thanks to low cost state supported universities. When I graduated from college in 1970, I was debt free like about 80% of my college class. 

But what has happened since then? Back in the 1970s, the state of Ohio provided 80% of the operating expenses of Kent State University as well as the other state supported universities in Ohio. Now that state support provides less than 20% of the operating expenses of Kent State University as well as the other state universities in Ohio. The difference is made up by increased tuition and donations. As a result, almost 80% of current college graduates at Ohio’s state universities graduate with large student loan debts that have to be repaid. 

Today, labor union membership in the private sector is a fraction of what it was back in the 1960s. Those well paying jobs in the auto plants, steel mills and other manufacturing plants are mostly gone. A steel mill where I spent a summer working back in 1968 was torn down in 2003 and standing in its place is a shopping center anchored by a Super Wal Mart. But how many of those jobs at that shopping center pay the kind of wages people working at that steel mill earned? 

Back in the 1960s, the top marginal income tax rate for the wealthy was at 90% of income.. Today the top marginal income tax rate for the wealthiest is at 35% and Republicans in congress had a hissy fit when President Obama suggested increasing it to 39%. 

Perhaps if the United States government adopted some of the government policies that built and made for a strong middle class while encouraging more income equality with less concentration of wealth; we could make American great again. I’m not holding my breath waiting for the current cast of clowns in Washington DC to do that.  

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 9, Issue 2, Posted 11:24 PM, 03.01.2017