Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inflation: Letting The Air Out Of Teacher Pay

As if being a teacher isn't enough of a financial challenge, here's some worse news, compliments of a front-page article in Sunday's New York Times about the Federal Reserve possibly injecting some inflation into the economy. Right now it's an intellectual argument, and if you've ever studied the Great Depression of the 1930s, you know that the real danger to the economy would be deflation. In an effort to combat that, the Fed would look kindly on an inflationary course for these reasons:

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama’s nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly. 

The next paragraph, though, shows that not all people would benefit from such an economic course. Read it and weep.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers’ wages.

But wait; there's more.

Rising inflation also punishes people living on fixed incomes.

So there you have it. The very same people who caused the financial meltdown, destroyed the pension system, and enacted laws that capped what municipalities and states could pay for social services now want an economic policy that would punish teachers and other public workers while they're working, and it would keep on giving after they retire and are on a fixed pension and Social Security. Is that the way to continue to attract the best and brightest people to teaching, and to show them how much society respects their contributions? Absolutely not.

(As a side note, I completely reject the notion that we have not already attracted some of our best people to become teachers. America's teachers put in an extraordinary amount of hours into their jobs and genuinely care about their chosen field. We've attended some of the best universities in the land and have studied with world class professors and professionals. So, it bothers me a great deal when others say that we need to get the best and brightest into our classrooms. We're already there. Pay us what we're worth, give us the tools to do our jobs and stop nickle and diming the schools in the name of an ideology that disrespects and ultimately wants to destroy a system that gives us the right to bargain collectively, set acceptable work rules and protect our due process rights.)

(Which leads to another side note. The right wing doesn't know what it's talking about on education.)

The politicians and think-tank lackeys who are presently influencing the education debate in this country have done a fine job singling out teachers, telling the public that their schools are failing, and blaming us for having pensions and benefits. Now the economists want to manipulate the economy so that it punishes us more. The contradiction is that if you continue to squeeze America's public workers, then we won't be able to spend and otherwise contribute to the economy. We won't be able to afford to send our children to college. And we won't be able to continue to do what we love.

Yes, I know there's an old myth in this country that says that teachers don't teach for money, they teach because they're committed to their craft. As with most myths, this is not only false, but dangerous, and society is playing with fire if it believes it can continue to treat us poorly.

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