Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Class Resentment Misplaced

I was looking around the web the other day and ran across this story on the political blog, The Monkey Cage. It’s an analysis by a University of Wisconsin political science professor, Kathrine Cramer Walsh, about what is going on in Wisconsin politically. Dr. Walsh happens to be in the middle of field research in Wisconsin about regional differences in public opinion. Her analysis focused on the conflict between rural and small town Wisconsinites from northern parts of the state and the more urbanized Wisconsinites from Madison and Milwaukee. One quote from her interviews around the state stuck with me. One of her northern subjects expressed his resentment of public employees, and teachers in particular, this way…

“Sam: I think a school teacher -- I know it can be hard. But they got great benefits. Tremendous benefits. And if you've been there for 15, 20 years, you're making 50 grand a year. There's nobody in town other than them making 50 grand a year. The guys in the [local] mill makes 20 thousand.”

Dr. Walsh’s intent was to present the dimensions of conflict driving the political scene in Wisconsin for the governor’s supporters. She was not seeking to engage their views or do anything other than present solidly objective political science. But I’d like to address the politics (as opposed to the political science) of her subject’s views.

He seems to think that someone making $50,000 after 15 or 20 years in a career is unusually and unfairly privileged. From the other comments in Walsh’s report, Sam and his neighbors have the view that they pay taxes on their small salaries to pay for high salaries and benefits that are not justified. They love seeing Walker stick it to those lazy public employees. This observation by Walsh seems very intuitive to me. It certainly seems to be my experience of how small town Midwesterners think of urban Midwesterners. But how does $50,000 really stack up to a teacher’s private sector peers?

According to, teachers in Wisconsin start at about $25,000/year. The average teacher in Wisconsin makes about $46,000/year (close to the $50k figure referenced by “Sam”). But according to “”, the average starting salary for a graduate of the largest public university in the state, the University of Wisconsin – Madison is $47,900/year and the “mid career” salary is $87,400. The same numbers for graduates of UW-Oshkosh (a smaller, less prestigious branch campus of the UW system) are $38,900 and $67,800. Since all teachers have to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, deciding to become a teacher upon graduating from college means making a massive sacrifice in pay. The gap is probably biggest for math and science teachers. Taken as a group overall, teachers make about half as much as their private sector counter parts throughout their careers. I know that teachers often get good health care and retirement benefits. But there is no benefits package I can imagine a teacher getting that's worth $40,000 a year.

What’s more, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average salary in 2008 of a male with a high school diploma was $32,000 (women average $25,000). So it is possible that a new high school teacher could congratulate her graduating students and watch them earn more than she does with nowhere near the same investment in education and training. If anyone should be resentful, it's the teachers.

This source also points out that the real value of the salaries of high school grads has dropped quite a lot in the last 30 years. No doubt, this perception of declining living standards drives the resentment that people like “Sam” feel towards teachers and other public employees. But I argue that Sam’s resentment is horribly misplaced. Over the same period, college graduates’ salaries have more or less flat lined (even including the private sector). If Sam and his neighbors want to find out where their share of the national economic pie went, teachers are not the place to look. They should look at Wall Street. But the Republican party has successfully convinced Sam and his friends that their real enemies are the people are managing to tread water while Wall Street pushes Sam and his friends under water.


The Law Talking Guy said...

If the GOP is allowed to wage class warfare between portions of the middle class while the Dems are afraid to point out that the whole middle class is getting screwed by wealthy folks who get massive tax breaks from the GOP, then they're going to win.

Raised By Republicans said...

I heard a comment yesterday by a Republican "commentator" on one of those talking head round table shows where he argued that public sector unions should not be allow to collectively bargain because it would mean that whenever there were Democrats in office, labor would be on "both sides of the table." Fortunately, the moderator stopped him there and said, "But couldn't you say exactly the same thing about any organized interest advocacy group with a relationship with either party?" The token Democrat on the panel jumped in and went on a 3 minute rant about Wall Street power brokers, the Republican party and financial regulations.

The Republican fumbled all over himself trying to make a distinction between the two situations (unions and Wall Street) that would still sound like it was based on some noble principle.

USwest said...

The Republicans are only interested in taking out a big Democratic contributor. Republicans have always been pissed off about Union political contributions and have tried several times to block them.

They managed to get the decision they wanted out to the conservatively stacked Supreme Court. So corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to political action committees and the like. In fact, people like Newt Ging. are playing coy about running for president so they can stay out of the reach of the few campaign laws there are.

That is what is at the root of all of this. But I ask the same question that Rachael Maddow asks: Do Democrats have the wherewithal to save their base? Republicans are very good at clever tricks and stunts like Wisconsin. Can Democrats match it?

"Sam" for all his jealously of teachers,may be surprised to find that they and their urban, middle class friends are his strongest allies.

Raised By Republicans said...

US West,

You're right about the GOP's motive here. The good news is that Wisconsin Democrats get more stubborn every time they read a pole. Also, even if the unions get cut out of the political fiance game, the Obama campaign showed that HUGE amounts of money can be raised without the organizational advantages unions bring to the table. But of course, having the internet AND unions would be better. AND unions are a lot more than political action committees.

Those teachers may be Sam's best allies in more way than one. Consider what keeps businesses afloat in a small town where the highest paid people in town are working for the local school system. If teachers get impoverished any more than they already are, what will keep the local hardware stores, restaurants and insurance sales offices afloat? Weekend fishing tours from Chicago?

USwest said...

I have an idea for the "guys at the mill".

The Guys at the mill have tough jobs. Manual labor has its perils. I suggest that the Guys at the mill get together and draw up a list of ideas for improving the working environment and then meet with management. If management won't meet, maybe the guys at the mill should call in a AFL/CIO rep for help.

USwest said...

Oh. and Sam should know that public servants pay the same taxes as everyone else. It isn't like they get a discount.

Middle class workers who make higher salaries pay more in taxes than low wage workers. This means more revenue for the government. Now, if the government would reform the tax code to encourage savings rather than rewarding debt, and if they would start taxing investment income other than retirement accounts, they might find that revenues would skyrocket.

But, that would mean Wall Street bankers wouldn't gain from structure the compensation packages to avoid taxes.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Oh. and Sam should know that public servants pay the same taxes as everyone else. It isn't like they get a discount.

Middle class workers who make higher salaries pay more in taxes than low wage workers."

It also means that individual teachers probably pay a bigger share of their own salaries than he does.

Good idea about the list of ways to improve the workplace. ;-)

USwest said...

Things are getting weird in Wisconsin now. I heard this morning that there are now movements to recall 8 Wis. Senators, 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Goes to show that you can never predict what will happen.

USWest said...

Something else for Sam:

From Today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne:

"A nationwide Pew Research Center survey released last week, for example, showed Americans siding with the unions over Walker by a margin of 42 percent to 31 percent.

At my request, Pew broke the numbers down by education and income and, sure enough, Walker won support from fewer than half of Republicans in two overlapping groups: those with incomes under $50,000 and those who did not attend college. Walker's strongest support came from the wealthier and those with college educations, i.e., country club Republicans.

USWest said...

To see the whole article:

(Seems I can post again after having had troubles.)

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