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Longer Weekends and Higher Wages? 5 Surprising Ways That Would Help Improve the Economy

Americans have been told that austerity measures and shared suffering are the path to economic recovery, but in fact, many fixes could dramatically improve our lives.

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That's an important point—that the bankers would only delay their losses by refusing to write down principal. The housing market is unlikely to return to its previous levels—Grantham noted that massive housing wealth was “an illusion”--and so even if the banks choose instead to foreclose on millions of homes, they're then stuck with a property they too cannot sell for its previous estimated value, and by flooding the market, they'll drive values down even further. Keeping people in their homes is good for the banks, good for the economy, and good for the homeowner. New Bottom Line is right to call its solution “Win-Win.”

3. Early retirement.

There's been a lot of focus on the youth unemployment rate, with good reason. But there's also a crisis facing older workers, who, facing long periods of unemployment, are being forced to spend their retirement funds early. Meanwhile, as many lost their retirement funds in the first round of the financial crisis, or are seeing their pensions taking a hit, they're being forced to work longer, thereby not freeing up jobs for those younger workers.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich offered up a solution back in 2010, a plan he said would create 1 million jobs: a temporary reduction in the age to receive Social Security benefits. Currently, workers can begin getting reduced benefits at age 62; Kucinich's plan would lower that age to 60.

This might sound wild, as right now what we're mostly hearing about are benefit cuts or raising the age of retirement. But our austerity-obsessed politicians are wrong. Kucinich argued:

“Many older workers can’t wait to retire, while many younger workers desperately need work. My plan enables older workers to take early retirement, thereby freeing up those jobs for younger workers who are currently unemployed. If just 25% of eligible workers choose to retire early, we can very quickly open one million job opportunities. These are not temporary jobs, but permanent jobs that already exist in our economy, even under the current recessionary circumstances.”

And way back in 2009, progressive commentator Thom Hartmann argued for lowering the retirement age to 55, and actually increasing benefits:

“If enough Boomers left the job market, it would even flip the current dynamic of too-many-people-chasing-too-few-jobs upside down, and create a tight labor market. Tight labor markets drive up wages.

And as wages go up, tax revenues – which are paying for Social Security (among other things) – would increase.”

And, of course, early retirement would give those workers spare time to spend with their families and friends, travel, and enjoy the benefits they've worked their whole lives for.

4. Bicycle stimulus.

"Green jobs" have been called for as part of any recovery package since the beginning of the economic crisis, a way to not only move the US back toward economic prosperity, but also to shift our priorities toward environmental sustainability. One interesting example of green job creation would be investing in bike paths in urban areas where cycling can easily take the place of car travel. 

If fixing the mortgage crisis is win-win, investing in bicycle infrastructure is win-win-win: it not only could create jobs that would stimulate the economy, but is better for personal health and also for the environment, replacing gas-powered cars with people-powered transit. Bicyclists save money on transit, are healthier overall, and don't have to spend time and money on the gym, and a city that invests in bike paths and safety encourages more and more people to take up biking to work.

Nancy Folbre blogged at the New York Times:

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