After his first big campaign speech, Democratic U.S. House candidate Tim Bjorkman huddled with reporters for thirteen minutes of Q&A. KELO TV used about 20 seconds for its personality/horserace question; KDLT used about 25 seconds of Bjorkman’s comments on his judicial experience and his view that we need a federal solution on health care to make up for South Dakota’s failure to expand Medicaid.
Bjorkman’s first response, on why he’s running for Congress, reveals a deeply humanitarian, service-oriented motivation. He served the public for years as a judge. The problems he saw from the bench—mental health, drug addiction, health care in general—affect not just the defendants who came before him but their families and especially their children. Bjorkman speaks of kids in “highly dysfunctional” homes living “lives of quiet desperation in the shadows of our culture.” Without hope and guidance, those kids “fall into the patterns of their parents and experience poor educational outcomes,” and “all too often they’ll fall into alcohol and marijuana use” before their teens. Those children and their parents “need a counselor more than they need a guard. They need treatment more than they need jail or prison.” Bjorkman says he can’t get those people the help they need from the bench; thus, he feels compelled to seek solutions as a Congressman.
At 3:13, Bjorkman says three magic words: “universal health care.”
There’s a solution to our problems. All the other countries that are developed have developed it. Heritage magazine did a study of the most economically free countries in the world… ten of the eleven more economically free countries than the United States all had universal health care. That’s Heritage Foundation. Forbes magazine addressed it [Tim Bjorkman, press conference, 2017.07.13, timestamp 2:50].
Bjorkman was referring to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, on which in 2017 the United States has slipped to #17, and this 2015 Forbes article, which said that, sure enough, ten of the eleven nations that beat us in 2015’s Heritage economic freedom rankings had universal coverage:
The two advanced economies with the most economically free health care systems—Switzerland and Singapore—have achieved universal health insurance while spending a fraction of what the U.S. spends. Switzerland’s public spending on health care is about half of America’s, and Singapore’s is about a fifth of ours. If we had either of those systems, we wouldn’t have a federal budget deficit [Avik Roy, “Conservative Think Tank: 10 Countries With Universal Health Care Have Freer Economies Than The U.S.,” Forbes, 2015.01.27].
At 3:50, Dana Ferguson asked if Bjorkman thinks 2018 will be a good year for Democrats in South Dakota. Bjorkman showed no interest in handicapping the partisan horserace. He similarly declined to wave the partisan flag in response to the next question, about how a Democrat can win in a red state, by saying that sure, party matters, but that he believes South Dakotans vote for the person.
At 5:50, Bjorkman reiterated the call he made in his speech to raise the federal minimum wage:
Yes… the federal government should increase the minimum wage. I just suggest $11 an hour. It would be $11.25 an hour today if we’d kept pace with 1968. I think we’re as great a nation today as we were in 1968 and that we should pay $11 or $11.25 an hour. If we did, that’s an anti-poverty… an anti-welfare or a welfare-cutting program, because it will remove people from the welfare rolls if they’re earning a fair wage, and we will not have to subsidize the people who are paying low wages [Bjorkman, timestamp 5:50].
At 7:50, Bjorkman avoided (ducked! dodged! dang it!) my question on his stance on immigration. Having just announced a “few minutes ago,” Bjorkman said he wants “to give thoughtful answers” and “not just give off-the-cuff responses” that “wouldn’t be worthy of the question you asked.” He did promise to address immigration and other issues in position papers and invited all of us reporters to come back and interview him in-depth on those positions as the seventeen months of the campaign progress.
Bjorkman also left me hanging at the end on my question about engaging young voters. He certainly believes young people should be interested and involved in this House contest, because the race is all about “preserving the American dream for their generation and their children.” Preserving the American dream ought to be enough to mobilize everyone to study the candidates and vote, but preserving the American dream is a banner any candidate can wave. Bjorkman the man of principle, policy, and problem-solving will want to sit down with his team of campaign strategists and marketers to figure out how to distinguish himself in the marketplace and uniquely appeal to the young voters who, if properly motivated, could tip the election in his favor. (Of course, Bjorkman may have already distinguished himself from all comers by saying “universal health care” and “increase the minimum wage.” Team Bjorkman: are you positioning Bjorkman as South Dakota’s Bernie Sanders?)
Around 8:45, Bjorkman spoke of the hard, lonely accountability of being a judge:
There’s nobody else to point a finger at or blame for any decision you make. You alone stand accountable for it. You alone are responsible for it, and it’s a very lonely job to sentence somebody for first-degree murder.
A trial judge makes thousands of decisions that impact people’s lives in important ways every year, and every time your duty is to do what’s right, what’s fair and just. So do I think that’s a good exercise for making decisions for the public on issues? Yes, I do, I think it’s good training for that [Bjorkman, timestamp 8:45].
Bjorkman should speak of that experience and responsibility every chance he gets. That judicial experience may even excuse, explain, and justify his not having a quick answer on immigration. As a judge, Bjorkman spent years making decisions with grave consequences. The liberty, health, safety, financial well-being, and the very lives of citizens, not to mention the proper application of law, hung on his thoughts and words. The details of his every decision were subject to review by higher courts. Bjorkman had to take his time to make sure he reviewed evidence from all sides and worked toward a just decision. The courtroom is no place for off-the-cuff statements. Neither is the campaign trail or Congress, not for Bjorkman, a thoughtful decision-maker who recognizes the impact of his words and policies. He won’t wing it; he’ll take his time and think it through. (Another note to Bjorkman’s campaign staff: on this key quality, thorough, thoughtful Bjorkman is the anti-Trump. Keep him off Twitter!)
The follow-up question about whether handing out all those sentences might produce a backlash at the polls from convicts and families didn’t faze Bjorkman. “Most people who go to prison, they’re struggling and they know it, and their families know it.” He said many people he sentenced told him, “I don’t want freedom; I want to be cured.” Bjorkman comes across not as a hard case who doesn’t care about the defendants who’ve come before him; quite the contrary, he sounds like a judge at peace with his conscience who has used the bench to help broken people.
Making none of the press coverage was Bjorkman’s suggestion to the press for a really useful news story:
You want to see what’s going on in our culture… sit in court for a day, or better yet, do a story where you’re following someone into the couet system and through the penal system, parole system afterward. You’d have a very powerful story. It might win you an award if you want to do that. It just takes some work and effort. I’ve recommended that to several reporters. Nobody’s taken me up on that. The parole board will welcome you on that end, too, to sit in on hearings, they’ve told me that [Bjorkman, timestamp 11:45].
On this suggestion and in his resistance to standard reporters’ horserace questions, Bjorkman signaled a practiced, professional, and gently sparring relationship with the press. “I’m not gonna do what you’d like me to there,” Bjorkman said to KELO’s question at 12:20 about why voters should choose him over his Republican opponents Dusty Johnson and Shantel Krebs. Bjorkman is not nihilist tyrant Donald Trump trying to delegitimize the national press that is exposing his sins. Nor is he a naïf frightened or bedazzled by the cameras and mics. Bjorkman is gently challenging the local press to focus on issues that matter and not falling into the quick-hit horserace comments that make it easier for reporters to meet the ten p.m. deadline.
I still want answers on immigration and engaging young voters in democracy (plus education, Native American relations, net neutrality, privacy…)… but as Bjorkman noted, I’m asking several months before anyone will really be paying attention. I have high expectations, and Bjorkman has time to meet them. In his first campaign press scrum yesterday, Bjorkman showed he may have the chops to do it.
Recently retired judge Tim Bjorkman held the first public event of his U.S. House campaign yesterday evening in Canistota. The Democratic candidate spoke to a friendly crowd of about 170 friends, neighbors, and visitors at the Canistota Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the Canistota Public School.
Introducing Bjorkman were his neighbor and former Canistota teacher and school superintendent Keith Ligtenberg, his friend and Total Stop Food Stores president Jeff Nielsen, and his sister Nancy Pulford:
Bjorkman said he saw firsthand in his courtroom the impacts of the middle class falling away from the well-off. Bjorkman said that growing inequality creates a “quiet desperation” and threatens “the economic, social, and moral fabric” of the nation. The problems he saw from the bench are beyond his ability as a judge to sole; thus, said Bjorkman, he feels a calling to run for Congress, where he believes he can solve these problems.
Sounding like Bernie Sanders, Bjorkman expressed his dismay that one American family has more wealth than 130 million American combined. He said it is morally wrong that in a nation as rich as the United States, one in three kids grow up poor.
Bjorkman said we need to honor work again and require able-bodied recipients of public assistance to to do some kind of work. He advocated moving people off welfare by raising the minimum wage. Bjorkman said the federal minimum wage he made back in 1968 at the Kimball IGA offered purchasing power in today’s dollars of $11.25. (This CNBC report pegs the 1968 value at $10.90.) He said a mom working full-time at an $11/hour minimum wage wouldn’t qualify for food stamps. Bjorkman indicated that a minimum wage that still leaves full-time workers qualifying for public assistance merely subsidizes low-wage employers.
Bjorkman called for more access to mental health care and drug treatment in our corrections system. He said we don’t need to have a debate about whether health care is a “right”; we simply need to recognize the making health accessible to all is the right thing to do morally and economically.
Bjorkman said the health care system reminds him of something Almanzo said to Laura in the Little House books:
“Everyone gets their ice; it’s just that the rich get theirs in summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.” The poor in South Dakota get their health care in our emergency rooms, our jails, and our prisons, often erratically and when it’s too late to easily treat, and often far, far more expensive than it needed to be.
Bjorkman called the House GOP health care plan “a moral, economic disaster” that is hardly a health care plan and more of a tax cut for the wealthy. He said he would have voted against that plan. He called on his fellow candidates in the House race to say on the record how they would have voted on that House plan.
Bjorkman also decried the cuts the Trump budget would make to the USDA. Those cuts, said Bjorkman, amount to “economic war on rural America” at a time when rural communities are already worse off than our cities with “higher poverty, higher unemployment rates, higher incidence of substandard housing, and poorer water quality.”
Bjorkman said South Dakota has too often elected people we like but who go to Washington and fall in with their national party’s agenda and wealthy corporate special interests. Bjorkman said just about everyone in Washington has a lobbyist except for regular folks and promised to be “your advocate.”
After the speech, guests enjoyed sloppy joes served by the Bjorkman campaign. Folks with young ‘uns then walked a block downtown to enjoy the carnival on the first evening of Canistota Sport Days festivities.
Instead of finding them interning in an office or behind a fast food counter, these days, you’ll find many teens in some sort of summer school. Forty-two percent of teenagers were enrolled in classes last summer — almost four times the number of students enrolled in summer school in July 1985. By 2024, teenage workers will make up just 26% percent of the workforce, a reduction of almost half since 1948 when the same age group accounted for more than 52% of workers.
Increased competition, older workers returning to the workforce and weak economic growth are all contributing to the decline of teenagers in the workforce. But as schoolwork grows increasingly intense and homework eats up more time, data suggest the biggest reason some teens won’t be working this summer is that they simply don’t have time.
“Students are paying more attention to course work and spending more time on school activities,” said Teresa Morisi, branch chief of the Division of Occupational Employment Projections at the BLS [Kellie Ell, “More Teenagers Choosing Summer Studies over Jobs,” USA Today, 2017.06.21].
This decline in teen workers shows that the trend I noted in April—teen workforce participation dropping significantly in the last two recessions—extends further back in time, with nationwide teen workforce participation down from its 1978 peak of 71.8% to last year’s 43.2%:
The USA Today article mentions the rising minimum wage as a factor that encourages employers to hire older workers, but that wage/age pressure appears minor compared to the much larger trend of young people hitting the books rather than working as cooks to handle tougher classes and prepare for college.
So settle down, David Novstrup. The minimum wage isn’t driving kids out of the workforce; kids themselves are, as they find certain pursuits more important than the almighty dollar.
I opened my copy and thought I’d found one little shred of data that might, against most other economic indicators, suggest that David Novstrup’s youth minimum wage (you know, the really bad idea we voters overwhelmingly rejected last year) might have been a reasonable idea. Mike Maciag crunches new data on youth employment and finds South Dakota has seen the share of young people age 16 to 24 holding down jobs has dropped 8.3 percentage points, from a 69.3% average from 2005 to 2007 (the highest in the nation at that time) to 61.0% in 2016 (seventh highest in the nation).
Oh my—did raising the minimum wage in 2015 kick young people out of the workforce, just as Novstrup and his Republican colleagues argued it would?
Nope. South Dakota’s youth employment downturn reflects a larger national trend in which the last two recessions provoked notable declines—around ten percentage points each—in the share of 16- to 19-year-olds nationwide holding jobs. After 2001, that share did not bounce back; After 2009, it crept back slowly, regaining not quite half of its loss:
Why aren’t as many kids working? It’s more likely their priorities, not minimum wage pressures:
One possible explanation, says Ross, is that teenagers have gradually become more focused on academics and extracurricular activities than earning a paycheck. Additionally, reforms led to high schools offering fewer career and technical education courses in favor of a greater emphasis on college prep [Mike Maciag, “The Uneven Recovery of Youth Employment,” Governing, 2017.04.05].
Now take a look at the trajectory of the youth employment decline in South Dakota:
The recession actually dropped South Dakota more than eleven points from its nation-topping pre-recession youth employment share. From 2010 to 2013, youth employment share climbed back around six points, then dropped three points in 2014, the year before we increased the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50. When that wage hike kicked in in 2015, the share of young South Dakotans working increased, just a little. When we added the a nickel in 2016, youth employment share crept down a tiny bit.
So once again, economic data show no clear negative impact of a higher minimum wage on youth employment. Sorry, David!
California, like South Dakota (there’s an intro that should give the SDGOP the creeps), started raising its minimum wage in 2014. California pretzel CEO Bill Phleps, like bumper-car bosses Al and David Novstrup, got nervous. But then, unlike South Dakota’s Republican Novstrups, Phelps looked at actual data:
Sales at his California stores immediately shot up.
“I was shocked,” Phelps says. “I was stunned by the business.”
The same exact pattern took place again in 2016, when the minimum wage rose again, Phelps said. There was a wage increase, and then boom, a bump in same-store sales across the state that held for most of the year.
South Dakota and Minnesota have increased their minimum wages over the last couple of years, but neither has taken the great leap of Seattle, which raised its minimum wage from $9.47 to $11 on April 1, 2015. Seattle companies employing 500 or more workers in the U.S. must reach $15 by January 1, 2017; smaller companies must reach that minimum wage by 2021.
As one of my colleagues wrote last week, the “unemployment rate in the city of Seattle – the tip of the spear when it comes to minimum wage experiments – has now hit a new cycle low of 3.4%.” Meanwhile, a University of Washington study on the minimum wage law found little or no evidence of job losses or business closings.
Voters have a chance, thanks to David and Al Novstrup, to take the increase and another $1.05 an hour away from young workers by voting for Referred Law 20, the notorious youth minimum wage. The Novstrups defend this discriminatory proposal by arguing that employers are more likely to “take a chance” on teenage workers if they can pay those kids less.
But think about the expectation that lower minimum wage communicates to teenagers: Hiring you is a risk. The wage we set for the least qualified worker is still too high for you. You can’t work as hard. You’re not as smart. You’re not as skilled. You’re not as trustworthy.
Now think about the expectation that an equal minimum wage sets for teenagers: If you come to work, we’re going to treat you like an adult. We expect you to work like an adult. Get here on time. Pay attention. Do what you’re told. Work hard. You can do it.
As a teacher, I understand how expectations work. Kids recognize and rise to—or fall to—the expectations we set for them. Let’s not follow the Novstrups in setting low expectations for our kids. Keeping the minimum wage the same for all workers, regardless of age, sends working teenagers the message that we respect their decision to get a job and we expect them to work has hard each hour as anyone else in the shop.
Note that the Economic Policy Institute numbers that Drabold plugs into his widget indicate that South Dakota’s cost of living ranges from 7% below the national average for childless singles to 13% below the national average for a single parent with one child. Interestingly, while the EPI data generally show higher costs of living in Rapid City and Sioux Falls/Sioux City (the EPI widget doesn’t distinguish, although anyone who’s visited can tell you there is a world of difference between Sioux Falls and Sioux City), single life is 1.5% cheaper in Rapid and 4.2% cheaper in the Sioux Falls/City metroplex (and somehow the widget doesn’t factor in the immense savings of riding one’s bicycle everywhere!).
But even in that cheap eastern metro, minimum wage still falls short of paying the bills. EPI says a single person in Sioux Falls/City can get by on a basic budget of $25,429. Full-time work at $8.55 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, just barely misses 70% of that cost. That single person would have to work over 57 hours a week all year to clear all expenses in Sioux Falls/City and nearly 60 hours a week in rural South Dakota.
Bump the household up to two adults and two children, and the minimum wage budget gets much tighter. The South Dakota urban cost of living for that family is $58,658. If Mom and Dad each work 40 hours a week at minimum wage, they’ll make 60.6% of that budget. Clearing that basic budget requires almost 132 hours of minimum-wage work each week. Split that burden between the two parents, and Mom and Dad each have to put in 66 hours a week. So much for family time.
p.s.: A minimum wage of $12.23 an hour would cover the single Sioux Falls/City denizen’s bills if she worked 40 hours a week every week of the year. To cover the two-parent, two-child family’s bills, Mom and Dad would each need full-time jobs paying $14.10 an hour.
[17:30] Amendment T—end gerrymandering with independent redistricting: Matt Sibley, SD Farmers Union, in favor; Rep. Jim Stalzer (R-11/Sioux Falls) against.
[48:20] Initiated Measure 22—real 36% rate cap on payday loans: Steve Hildebrand, SF café owner, for.
[1:07:15] Amendment U—unlimited payday loan interest disguised as fake 18% rate cap: Steve Hildebrand, against.
[1:28:10] Amendment V—open nonpartisan primary: Rick Knobe, radio host, for; Will Mortenson, Republican activist, against.
[1:57:05] Referred Law 19—Incumbent Protection Plan: Cory Allen Heidelberger, against.
[2:11:30] Referred Law 20—youth minimum wage: Cory Allen Heidelberger, against.
[2:28:40] Amendment S—crime victims bill of rights: Jason Glodt, lawyer, for; Ryan Kolbeck, lawyer, against.
[2:49:20] Initiated Measure 22—Anti-Corruption Act: Darrell Solberg, business owner, for; Ben Lee, paid Koch Brothers/Americans for Progress propagandist, against.
That Sioux Falls paper’s video is complete, but is also a bit fuzzy and marked up. Cameraman Bruce Danielson was on scene as well and captured a little clearer video of my presentations on Referred Law 19 and Referred Law 20. Cameraman Bruce does moderator Sarah Jennings and the rest of us the favor of capturing her face on Camera #2 instead of that Sioux Falls paper’s steady rear shot. Cameraman Bruce can do nothing to change the fact that, even seated, I wave my arms with great enthusiasm any time I speak.
Share those videos, help your neighbors learn about the ballot measures… and get ready to vote, starting Friday, when your county auditor will have ballots for early voting available!