by Catherine McBreen
The protests being carried out by teachers in front of state capital buildings in multiple states brings an uncomfortable feeling to most Americans, regardless of whether they are pro or anti some of the proposed cuts, and frankly, despite whether they are Republican or Democratic. It touches two of the fundamental beliefs that Americans believe in and puts them in conflict with each other.
-Most of us believe that education is fundamental to the success of America and that good teachers are critical. Many of us, however, would never want to be teachers because of the difficulty of the job.
-At the same time, most of us believe and are taught, that debt is bad and to avoid it at all costs. This is especially true since the onset of the economic crisis which highlighted the importance of this belief.
It is also somewhat refreshing to see politicians actually trying to take some action since for so long we all seem to have been stuck in the mire.
Everyone must look at the history of this issue and re-frame their own thoughts and perceptions. This issue, along with many others, will become increasingly important not only in the next six months but in the next ten year.
If we look at supporting the opinions of the teachers there are many important issues to remember.
- Education is important and these jobs can often be difficult.
-Many teachers spend significant time continuously updating their skill sets.
-The benefits they have were negotiated and are subject to a contract. Contracts are generally unbreakable without some type of penalty.
-These teachers have performed their services with the belief that they
would someday receive these benefits.
- In the past, teachers have generally been compensated at lower levels
than those in the private sector workforce. Therefore, retirement and health
benefits were truly part of the overall compensation.
-Really good teachers should be compensated at higher levels and should get
The counter arguments are just as powerful, and as a small business owner, I feel some of them profoundly.
- Most individuals in the private sector do not have a pension plan. They have a
defined contribution plan that will provide some retirement income but, in most
cases, not nearly as robust as a pension plan providing a percentage of salary
every month until death.
-Some teachers are not as good as others and probably should not have tenure.
Individuals in the private sector aren't guaranteed a job if they aren't any good.
-Salaries in the private sector are no longer better than many teacher salaries.
-Research we do at Spectrem Group identifies that 16% of houses with $1-5
million are Educators, the second most common occupation in this wealth segment other than Managers.
-........and, OK, I have to say......jeepers, most of them get the summer off!
The other issue is the profound level of debt held by our states and our federal government. In our monthly polling done with households with $500,000 of assets or greater, the biggest concern for these households is the debt of the state and federal governments. At over 65% this issue has now superseded concern over unemployment which has been the greatest concern for the last two years. (I should mention that unemployment falls right behind the concern over governmental debt.)
I don't know the answer and I do have to give legislators a little bit of empathy in dealing with a really thorny difficult issue. Whether they are right or wrong, competent or incompetent, it's time we all learn to do a little bit of negotiating.