A question for teachers: Are roofers underpaid?
We’ll come back to the question momentarily, but first, some background.
As with other states, public school teachers in my adopted State of Arizona are demanding a large pay increase, claiming that they are underpaid and that the Copper State ranks last in teacher pay.
Although facts don’t matter when teacher unions demand more money, I wasted my time when I had a newspaper column years ago in conducting a detailed analysis of the facts of pay for public school teachers. The analysis considered hours worked, employee benefits, pensions, working conditions, job security, the non-rigorous courses required to obtain a degree in education, the lower cost of living in Arizona, and the pay for jobs with similar requirements (including the pay of teachers in parochial schools). I concluded that public school teachers were paid quite well.
Maybe that’s no longer true, but you won’t find an in-depth analysis in the local media, where reporters are more like cheerleaders for teachers than objective reporters, but without the pom-poms.
Teachers and their cheerleaders also say that Arizona ranks low in student test scores because the state doesn’t spend enough on public education, which is the same argument used in other states. Actually, Arizona ranks better than many states that spend a lot more, when test scores are adjusted for the race and per-capita income of students. It’s a distasteful fact for some to swallow, but Hispanics and Native Americans have significantly lower test scores and income, on average, than non-Hispanic whites and Asians; and Arizona has a significant percentage of both of the former.
Interestingly, Arizona is home to a charter school, the Basis School, that has several campuses in the state and ranks in the top five nationally. How does it accomplish this feat? By hiring top-notch teachers and by focusing on academics instead of sports and Taj Mahal buildings.
I’d be happy for teachers if they made a million bucks, as long as their paying customers (aka parents) think they deserve it and don’t pay them out of the public purse. In fact, that’s what some teachers in South Korea make. They are private teachers who coach students outside of regular school hours (which are very long in the nation). In other words, they operate in a labor market outside of the government monopoly and thus have their pay determined by their results and by supply and demand instead of politics.
The Norway model also would be better for teachers, at least the competent ones. Norway increased teacher pay significantly, but only after revamping the college curriculum for education majors, transforming it to one of the toughest curriculums, as tough a science or engineering. It didn’t make sense to common-sensical Norwegians to give teachers raises without first addressing the ones who were dumbbells. Of course, Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a racially homogenous population that is about the same size as Arizona’s population. These demographics make it much easier to get things done politically.
Speaking of politics, let’s return to the opening question: Are roofers underpaid?
Who gives a damn, other than roofers?
No one does, because roofer pay is not a political issue. And it’s not a political issue because roofers work in a true labor market, where pay is determined by supply and demand and is not influenced by a powerful lobby.
If any teachers are reading this, they are no doubt sticking their jaws out in indignation. After all, how dare someone compare roofers to teachers? Roofers are just responsible for roofs and don’t have college degrees; teachers are responsible for the welfare of children and have college degrees.
Those who think this way should demand a refund of their college tuition.
There are many factors that can determine the value of a job in the labor market, or more accurately, the supply and demand for a given job. Education is only one factor. Other factors include skills, working conditions, danger, and physical effort.
Roofing is one of the most dangerous occupations, more dangerous than firefighting and policing. It’s also very strenuous and performed outside in the elements, including in the 110-degree heat of summers in the deserts of Arizona. So, with these considerations, what should roofers be paid? The answer depends on supply and demand.
Assuming a constant demand for roofers, the pay for roofers will fluctuate with the supply of roofers. If few people want to be roofers, the supply will be lower and wages will be higher.
With my fear of heights, I couldn’t be paid enough to be a roofer. And I suspect that teachers wouldn’t take the job for a 50% increase in pay.
If teachers weren’t government employees and thus dependent on their pay being set by an oftentimes corrupt and crazy political system, their pay would be set like roofer pay; that is, by the market. But unlike roofers, teachers prefer to be dependent on the vagaries of politics rather than to compete in a labor market. Then they snivel and demonstrate outside the capital building when a state runs out of money and can’t meet their pay demands, due to the skyrocketing cost of Medicaid, other burgeoning social spending, and ballooning pension bills for teachers, firefighters, cops, and other public servants, er, masters.
Oh, regarding the nostrum that teachers should be paid more because they are responsible for the welfare of children: Well, a lot of people are responsible for the welfare of children, including school bus drivers, school cafeteria workers, school nurses, school crossing guards, and school janitors. Should all of these be insulated from the labor market because they can affect the welfare of children? If so, then how about a roofer who re-roofs a school building? Should he be paid more than a roofer who re-roofs a nursing home? Better yet, how about the driver of a 70,000-pound 18-wheeler traveling 70 mph on a highway just several feet away from a family in a minivan? He can really affect the welfare of children.
Closing comment: Years ago, I wasted my time in examining the facts about teacher pay, but here I go again trying to inject logic, reason and facts into what is a political issue and thus has little to do with logic, reason and facts. The result will be the same: logic, reason and facts will be ignored.
Clearly, I’m insane.