A decade of stagnant pay has left teacher salaries in Louisiana below the Southern and national average, and could be one reason why it’s hard to find middle-school teachers who understand basic math. But Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Wilborn P. Nobles, III reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to call for an increase in the state’s allocation to schools, half of which will be dedicated to covering a pay raise for Louisiana’s teachers.
Louisiana teachers earn roughly $1,700 less than the average among states tracked by the Southern Regional Education Board. [State Communications Director Shauna] Sanford said that gap is expected to increase in the future. State Education Superintendent John White is also calling for lawmakers to act on teacher pay, telling WRKF’s Jim Engster on August 16 that a pay increase for teachers “has to happen now.” “The funding formula for K-12 education has increased, but it hasn’t increased at a rate necessary to keep up with our competitors and we are in a serious state of risking — losing — the competition for teaching talent,” White said.
In 2017, Louisiana teachers earned $9,660 less than the national average. Last year, the average starting salary for a teacher in the state was $40,128.
Low pay, low wage growth
Workers in Louisiana continue to get paid less than their counterparts in other states, and their wages are growing at a slower rate. That’s according to quarterly wage numbers released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Advocate’s Sam Karlin has a breakdown:
The state’s 3.0 percent growth in average weekly wages lagged behind the U.S. rate of 3.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average weekly wage in the first quarter was $1,152. All of Louisiana’s largest seven parishes measured had lower weekly wages than the national average. East Baton Rouge Parish saw wages rise by 2.4 percent during the period to $1,024. That ranked 228 out of the country’s largest 350 counties. Two of Louisiana’s largest seven parishes grew at a stronger rate than the country as a whole, with Orleans and Calcasieu parishes posting gains of 4.0 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively. The average weekly wage in the first quarter of 2018 was $1,059 in Orleans Parish and $969 in Calcasieu Parish. Both parishes ranked in the top 100 for wage growth in the country’s largest 350 counties during the first quarter compared to the same period in 2017.
According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, low wages may offer immediate savings to businesses, but we all bear the cost:
For many workers in certain sectors, wages are so low that even those who work full time must rely heavily on government assistance to make ends meet. This suggests that low pay by many employers—facilitated by weakened or inadequate labor standards, such as a low minimum wage and outdated overtime regulations—is placing unwarranted demands on public resources. As corporations achieve extraordinarily high profit levels and executive pay reaches new heights, it is appropriate to question whether employers are effectively passing off a portion of their societal responsibilities on to taxpayers.
The EPI study found that most recipients of public support either work or have a family member who works, and notes that a wage hike for workers on the lower end of the wage scale would ease the burden on government resources, allowing greater investment in programs like early-education that increase worker capacity and attainment.
Paid family leave could boost racial equity
Paid family and medical leave provides workers with crucial support while they care for their families or deal with personal health emergencies. That’s why almost every member nation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – that is, every member nation except the United States – offers some form of paid time off for workers to care for their families. The OECD average is 18 weeks of paid leave. In the United States, however, where no paid family leave is mandated by law, this benefit is available to very few workers. As a recent report from the National Partnership for Women and Families highlights, this lack of leave hits families of color particularly hard:
The vast majority of working people in the United States – 85 percent – do not have paid family leave through their employers, and the consequences for people of color are especially severe. This is, in part, due to past and present institutionalized racism that has resulted in significant health and economic disparities. … Paid parental leave would improve child and maternal health outcomes by allowing mothers to heal fully from childbirth, encouraging breastfeeding and reducing the likelihood of severe depressive symptoms in new mothers. Yet, only 25 percent of Latino workers and 43 percent of Black workers report having access to any paid or partially paid parental leave, compared to 50 percent of white workers. As a result, women of color may take shorter periods of leave or no leave at all.
The lack of paid family leave can lead to even greater economic instability for many families:
For people of color who need family or medical leave, discrimination, retaliation and job loss are real threats. Overall, nearly 40 percent of workers have no legal guarantee of job protection through the FMLA if they need to take leave, which means employers can dictate whether and how a person is able to take time for a personal or family health issue. For many people of color, this results in job loss. For example, Black and Latina mothers are more likely than white women to report being let go by an employer or quitting their jobs after giving birth in order to have some leave. The fear of job loss keeps people from being able to provide care too.
Prisoners on strike
August 21 marked the start of a nationwide prison strike, affecting institutions in at least 17 states. Prisoners are striking to protest labor and living conditions. Prisoner pay varies widely from state to state. Last year, Noah Smith argued that as prison labor is often contracted out to companies like Starbucks and Microsoft, prisoners represent an unexpected source of competition for other American workers. Vox’s German Lopez has a rundown of the strike, which is scheduled to last through Sept. 9:
Prison labor issues recently received attention in California, where inmates have been voluntarily recruited to fight the state’s record wildfires — for the paltry pay of just $1 an hour plus $2 per day. But the practice of using prison inmates for cheap or free labor is fairly widespread in the US, due to an exemption in the 13th Amendment, which abolished chattel slavery but allows involuntary servitude as part of a punishment for a crime. For Sawari and the inmates participating in the protests, the sometimes forced labor and poor pay is effectively “modern slavery.” That, along with poor prison conditions that inmates blame for a deadly South Carolina prison riot earlier this year, have led to protests. For prisons, though, fixing the problems raised by the demonstrations will require money — something that cash-strapped state governments may not be willing to put up. That raises real questions about whether the inmates’ demands can or will be heard.
Number of the Day:
$2.74: Amount Louisiana’s hourly minimum wage would need to rise to bring a family of three, headed by a single parent working full-time for minimum wage, up to the federal poverty line. (Source: Federal Poverty Guidelines)