Public school teachers and support workers in Louisiana are long overdue for a pay raise. A decade of stagnation in state support for teacher pay means the average teacher would need to earn an extra $4,004 for their salary to have the same buying power as it did in 2008. Now, as state policymakers consider the first across-the-board teacher pay raise in a decade, they should be mindful of the wide pay gaps that already exist between different school districts, and seek to prioritize the poorest districts. They also should ensure that teachers and support workers are able to keep up with the rising cost of living by providing annual pay adjustments. A new report by LBP’s Neva Butkus tracks teacher pay in each of Louisiana’s school districts, and how it has evolved since the last time teachers received annual cost-of-living adjustments.
In 2018, teachers in 45 of the state’s 69 public school districts were paid below the statewide average, which suggests that a few well-paying school districts are bringing up the statewide average. In St. Helena Parish, a first-year teacher can expect to be paid $27,499 — or less than half the $56,118 what a starting teacher can expect in Red River Parish. … With Louisiana’s economy on an upswing, there is bipartisan support for giving teachers a raise during the 2019 legislative session and bringing them closer to their Southern peers. While all teachers and school support staff are long overdue for a raise, legislators should give careful consideration to how these raises are allotted. While an across-the-board raise is the simplest solution, this would do little to address the vast disparities that exist between school districts that has made some districts less competitive when recruiting teachers. A better approach would be to distribute the raises in a way that prioritizes the poorest districts, and the jobs that are hardest to fill. Moreover, any raise should be accompanied by a renewed commitment to ensuring that school funding keep pace with the cost of living.
Millions are behind in their car payments
While unemployment may be low, a new report by the New York Fed identifies a troubling sign that low-income workers aren’t sharing in broader economic growth: a record 7 million Americans are seriously behind on their car payments, putting them at risk of losing their cars. Experts are pointing their fingers at a boom in predatory subprime auto-loans, and at the difficulty young borrowers face in servicing both high levels of student loan debt and payments on the cars they need to get to and from work. The Washington Post’s Heather Long explains why delinquent car payments could be a sign of deep financial distress, notwithstanding a tight labor market:
A car loan is typically the first payment people make because a vehicle is critical to getting to work, and someone can live in a car if all else fails. When car loan delinquencies rise, it is usually a sign of significant duress among low-income and working-class Americans. “Your car loan is your No. 1 priority in terms of payment,” said Michael Taiano, a senior director at Fitch Ratings. “If you don’t have a car, you can’t get back and forth to work in a lot of areas of the country. A car is usually a higher-priority payment than a home mortgage or rent.” People who are three months or more behind on their car payments often lose their vehicle, making it even more difficult to get to work, the doctor’s office or other critical places.
Americans struggle against hunger every day
The last government shutdown is behind us, along with news stories about federal workers lining up at food pantries for assistance. But for millions of Americans—and 1 in 5 Louisianans—food insecurity is a daily struggle. Writing in The New Food Economy, Alison Cohen and Andrew Fisher ask why the pervasive need caused by low wages and and a less-than-adequate system of government support so often escapes our notice:
[W]e wonder why the perpetual reality for some 46 million Americans who regularly rely on food banks does not seem to garner the same attention? Perhaps this newfound focus on food charity can highlight the economic fragility of America’s working and middle class. In our public servants’ painful, public struggle to access food, can we also see the 12 percent of Americans who live with more permanent food insecurity year after year? Less than a month after pay was withheld, 800,000 furloughed federal workers and a million or more contract workers not entitled to back pay—janitors, security guards, daycare workers, food service employers—were adversely impacted, needing to make impossible choices between rent, healthcare, food, and transportation. Add to that the reports from food banks across the country of a 20- to 50-percent increase in requests for food assistance, and we begin to get a clear picture of the precarity of our government’s social safety net and of a low-wage economy where a crisis is just a missed paycheck or two away.
One consequence of the shutdown was a larger-than-usual gap in the distribution of food stamps. While the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is distributing March food stamps early to provide some relief to families receiving assistance, many low-income families will still struggle to pay for food in the weeks before March benefits will be distributed. Cash donations are the most effective way to help food banks get food to those in need.
When companies steal some workers’ benefits, all workers suffer
Bosses looking to dodge their responsibilities to their workers have long relied on misclassifying employees as independent contractors. For unscrupulous employers, breaking the law in this way offers several advantages: they avoid workers compensation payments, Social Security taxes and overtime rules. Now, as Michael Joe reports in New Orleans City Business, immigrant workers and organized labor in New Orleans are coming together to fight this exploitative practice.
Experts say worker misclassification is a growing form of wage theft among workers in nearly every sector of the economy — from janitors, home health aides and stagehands to data entry clerks, drywall workers and port truck drivers — which leads not only to underpayment of wages but also absence of benefits and increased exposure to risks. Immigrant workers, in particular, are ripe for employer exploitation, said Erika Zucker, a policy advocate at the Workplace Justice Project at the Loyola Law Clinic, which represents and advocates for low- and middle-wage workers across industries. Employers are responsible for paying overtime wages to employees, paying shared payroll taxes to Social Security and Medicare, paying into state and federal unemployment programs and securing workers’ compensation insurance for medical coverage and restitution involving workplace injuries. Employers also must check a worker’s documents showing they are legally able to work in the country. But some employers do not ask or knowingly turn a blind eye, Zucker said, then “use that as a weapon to keep you from enforcing your rights. Regardless of your right to be in this country, you have a right to the minimum wage, you have a right to be entitled to overtime, you have the right to act together with your fellow employees to stand up to your rights. You have the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of your sex, your race, your national origin, your religion. All of those things are true regardless of your immigration status.”
Number of the Day
279,739 – Number of Louisiana students receiving free or reduced-price breakfasts through the federal School Breakfast Program during the 2017-18 school year. This is a 6.9 percent increase over 2016-17—the fourth greatest increase in the country. (Source: FRAC School Breakfast Scorecard, 2017-18)