Same Song, Different Beat: Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Poorer

Them that got shall get
them that not shall lose
so the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, papa may have
But God bless the child that got his own
-Billie Holiday

The public discussion about the bonus compensation of executive in the financial sector raises questions about the kind of society we have chosen to be. Last week Goldman Sachs announced that it was on track to dispense a record $23 billion in bonuses for 2009. This is just one company.  This week the Obama administration ordered the firms that received taxpayer money to bail out these companies to slash compensation to their highest-paid employees.  However, while compensation will be pared substantially from what the highest-paid people at the company might have received under normal circumstances, executives will still be permitted to receive multimillion-dollar pay packages.

Turn to sports and we find Phillip Rivers, quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, signing a $92. million six year contract extension. Not be out done, Eli Manning of the New York Giants, signed a six year contract extension for $97.5 million. LaBron James is waiting to sign perhaps the most lucrative contract in sports history.  He is sure to make mega-millions.  Meanwhile, teachers and everyday workers are struggling to make ends meet.  The average teacher salary is $51,000. The median starting salary for a teacher is around $32,000. It may take a few years for a teacher to build up enough experience to move very far beyond that starting salary. In contrast, California correctional officer’s maximum base annual salary is $73,728.

The salaries we paid workers in various sectors of our society are a reflection of the value we place on these people and their professions. Little wonder then that students in the USA lag behind other industrial nations in literacy, math and science. The U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics reports that thirty-eight percent of all fourth graders in the United States can’t read this simple poem. In a study of how good 15-year-olds are in math, USA ranked 24 out of 29 countries. That’s behind the Czech Republic and New Zealand. The Washing Post reported that scores from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment showed that U.S. 15-year-olds trailed their peers from many industrialized countries. The average science score of U.S. students lagged behind those in 16 of 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group that represents the world’s richest countries.

The diversion we have been fed around the false choices for health care, the so called federal deficit, and the twisted lives of celebrities, hide the fact that the real indicators of where we are going as a nation are trending downward. This is largely due to the moral and political choice we have allowed to be made in our name under the guise of “responsible government” and “living within our means”.  Consequently, education and the learning institutions have been starved, and the salary we pay teachers for the sacred duty of educating our children is not that far above the poverty level in terms of real wages.  What Americans are going to have to come to terms with is that is no longer a choice of whose best able to run the country and solve problems, democrats or republican.  None have the interest of everyday working people at heart.  A baseline will have to be established politics that says whichever party is in power, there are baseline matters which are non negotiable-affordable health care, quality education, jobs with decent pay, nurturing caring communities, and access of everyday people


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