Published Online: January 25, 2011
Published in Print: January 26, 2011, as Blogs of the Week

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| VIEWS | WALT GARDNER’S REALITY CHECK

Teachers' Unions And the Middle Class

If there’s one thing the Great Recession has taught this country, it’s that the protracted pain is not equally felt. The gross disparity between the polar opposites, however newsworthy, has distracted attention away from the plight of the middle class. It’s their existence that has long provided equilibrium, holding out the promise of a better life.

But as union power waned, so did wages. Between 1979 and 2007, income for the top 1 percent skyrocketed 281 percent, while income for the bottom 20 percent of the country rose an anemic 16 percent. Correlation is not causation, but there is an uncanny link between union ascendancy and equitable income distribution.

This background has direct relevance to education. Studies show that children of workers who lose their jobs and then find work at lower salaries suffer from lower wages too. Children whose parents are jobless also feel the pain through poorer nutrition and frequent changes of residence, and they bring the effects to school. The costs are ultimately borne by taxpayers, adding to state deficits.

Nevertheless, critics charge that unions are the cause of budget deficits. In his State of the State address, Gov. Chris Christie singled out the gains that teachers have won as a major cause of New Jersey’s budget woes. He said he intends to fight for elimination of teacher tenure and adoption of vouchers, as if doing so would balance the state’s budget.

If that charge were true, then states where employees are denied bargaining rights should have small deficits. But that is not the case. —Walt Gardner

Vol. 30, Issue 18, Page 12

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