What is the national debt and does it really matter?
During almost any discussion of legislation in Congress, the national debt will reliably be introduced into the debate. This topic is unavoidable when allocating federal funds for any reason, but especially during budget proceedings. Usually, Republicans voice their concerns over excessive national spending and the effect that it would have on the federal deficit. But what exactly is the national debt and should we be concerned about it?
Essentially, the federal deficit is the amount of debt the United States has — or the amount of money it owes to other entities. These include U.S. federal agencies, state and local governments, foreign governments, and investors. The total national debt as of February 2018 totals to over $20 trillion. Needless to say, this is the highest amount of debt the country has ever had.
Why is the federal deficit so large? The simplest explanation is that the government has spent many years and decades spending more money that it collects in revenue from taxes. But the federal government is very large and has many, many working parts. Contrary to popular belief, China does not own most of the national debt. That title actually belongs to the Social Security Trust Fund — where your retirement checks come from. In fact, about 30 percent of the national debt is owed to 230 federal agencies. Or the United States owes this money to itself. This situation is a result of shifting money around to different parts of the government through the purchase and sale of U.S. Treasury bonds.
The federal deficit matters because of its potential impact on the economy. With higher debt burdens, economic growth slows. This is a side effect of governmental actions typically taken to deal with the deficit. As interest rises, the government is likely to raise taxes or increase inflation to handle it. Both have a negative impact on investors' willingness to invest. A higher inflation rate will often result in a higher interest rate, which discourages borrowing. Additionally, high levels of public debt cause concerns over whether the debt could actually be repaid in the future. However, the United States has so far been reliable in paying its bills. In fact, part of the reason America is the country with the highest foreign debt is because U.S. Treasury bonds are seen as the safest investment safest investment. But running up the debt even more puts the country more at risk for not making good on its promises.
An increasing national debt seems to be bad for the national economy, yet fiscal policies do not seem to be changing to resolve the situation. The new tax law implemented in 2018 cuts taxes across the board, but most steeply for businesses and wealthier individuals. Lowering the tax base will further contribute to the national deficit as there will be less money to make interest payments. The pattern continues with the 2018 fiscal year budget proposal from President Trump, which totals to about $4.4 trillion. The proposed programs and spending would add almost $10 billion to the deficit this year and $7 trillion over the next 10 years. This budget size is about the same as the total 2017 fiscal year budget under Obama, but it is an unusual proposal coming from a Republican president. Conservatives have long worked to maintain an image as the party of fiscal responsibility. Increasing the deficit with a big budget like this one does not fit that image.
So, should you be concerned about the national debt? Over the long-term, everyone should be concerned. Slower growth will affect every aspect of the economy. A booming economy encourages investment, which then creates economic opportunities. Lowered incentive from investors can spell trouble. Slower growth can also lead to wage stagnation and fewer jobs being created. To keep the unemployment figure low, America will need more economic growth as more young people enter the workforce.
Looking for a job? In addition to encountering those annoying never-ending job interviews you may find yourself face-to-face with an artificial intelligence bot.
Companies worldwide increasingly use artificial intelligence tools and analytics in employment decision-making – from parsing through resumes and screening candidates to automated assessments and digital interviews. But recent studies claim that AI does more harm than good.
While AI screening tools were developed to save companies time and money, they’ve been criticized for placing women and people of color at a disadvantage. The problem is that many companies lack appreciable diversity in their data set, making it impossible for an algorithm to know how people from underrepresented groups have performed in the past. As a result, the algorithm will be biased toward the data available and compare future candidates to that archetype.
The City’s Automated Employment Decision Tools (AEDT) law is designed to offset the potential misuse of AI and protect job candidates against discrimination. It was enforced on July 5th, 2023 in New York City - with other cities and states expected to gradually follow suit. Employers must now inform applicants when and how they encounter AI. Furthermore, companies have to commission a third-party audit of the AI software used, and publish a summary of the results to prove that their systems aren’t racist or sexist. Job applicants are able to request information regarding what data is collected and analyzed by the AI. Violations of the law can result in fines of up to $1,500.
Replacing Human Hiring Decisions
However, should a job applicant want to opt-out of such impersonal judgement by a bot, the new law's scope is quite limited.
While the law specifies that instructions for requesting an alternative selection process must be included in the AI screening disclosure, companies aren't actually required to use other screening methods. Not to mention that the law only applies to AI in hiring and not any other employment decisions. It also wouldn't apply if the AI, for example, flags candidates with relevant experience, but a human then reviews all applications, making the ultimate hiring decision.
Some civil rights advocates and public interest groups argue that the law isn’t extensive enough and that it’s even unenforceable. On the other hand, businesses say that it’s impractical, costly, and burdensome, and that independent audits aren’t feasible.
Responsible use of AI in hiring
Although this law may be a good first attempt to assign more regulatory guardrails around AI, it remains to be seen if it ensures the responsible use of AI in hiring processes. At the end of the day, perhaps recruiting talent should remain a human-made decision.
The good news is that AI can help companies without harming potential job candidates in many ways – such as connecting new employees with internal organizational information and company benefits during onboarding. Or helping employees to do their jobs more effectively rather than replacing them.
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!