Two stories floating around the news media lately both make me want to shake the principal actors and yell in their faces, “Raise wages and you’ll solve the problem.”
The first story involves Wal-Mart’s latest embarrassment—employees in it Canton, Ohio store organized a Thanksgiving food drive for fellow workers. This act of charity—by and for employees only—begged the question that pundits, labor leaders, left-leaning actors and supporters of the minimum wage are all asking: Does Wal-Mart pay its employees too little money?
The Canton food drive for Wal-Mart employees came on the heels of a report by Demos, the liberal think tank, that if Wal-Mart had not engaged in a stock buy-back program is recent years, it would have had the money to raise employee salaries by $5.83 an hour and kept the same profit. My only problem with the survey is that it doesn’t attack the profit margin, which is pretty fat for Wal-Mart and could be reduced as another way to pay employees a living wage.
At this point, Wal-Mart’s treatment of its employees has achieved near mythic notoriety in the mainstream and the left-leaning media. The food drive is merely this week’s “Wal-Mart doesn’t pay its employees enough” story. I’m sure many others are as tired as I am of shouting at the paper, TV, radio or computer screen, “Just do the decent thing and raise their salaries to $15 an hour!”
Perhaps not so many people were yelling at Secretary of Education Arne Duncan the other day when he announced a new public relations campaign by the Department of Education to get more kids to consider careers as school teachers. Other sponsors include the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach for America, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions and several other educational groups. The problem the campaign addresses is that the Baby Boom generation of teachers is beginning to retire and many predict teacher shortages in the future.
If Arne Duncan doesn’t know it, maybe his friends at Microsoft and the multinational advertising agencies involved in the Advertising Council could tell him that it’s a simple matter to attract more—and more competent—people to a job or career. Just offer more money.
I suspect that Duncan is not entirely serious about attracting more people to the teaching profession, given his continued support of charter schools. From day one, the goal of the charter school movement has been to hammer down salaries of teachers by destroying public school unions. We know that the big money funding the charter school movement doesn’t really care about quality education. Otherwise they would have pulled the plug on charter schools years ago, given that on average charter schools underperform public schools.
The equation is simple:
1. Charter schools pay less
2. Thus, charter schools drive down teachers’ salaries
3. Lower teacher salaries decrease interest in becoming a teacher.
If this esteemed group of government entities, companies and nonprofit organizations really wanted to build the next generation of school teachers, it would be bankrolling a campaign to make union organizing easier and to set high federal wage standards for all school teachers, public and private.
Both these stories come down to people with power scratching their heads and wondering what to do when the answer is standing right in front of them like a large cold and hungry elephant shivering and trumpeting loudly. PAY THEM MORE! It may mean taking a little less in profits, which are currently exorbitant. Or it may mean raising taxes. Doesn’t matter—those with jobs should make enough money to feed their families, and the professionals to whom we entrust our children should not have their decent wages reduced but instead be raised to the same rate at which we pay lawyers, accountants and other professionals. Pay teachers as much as we pay neurosurgeons and top PR execs, and we’ll have more people interested in the profession.