Out of Control Policy Blog

Salary shmalery

The LA Times has an interesting piece on school drop outs. Nope, it's not about students dropping out:

    In California, teachers are departing the profession in alarming numbers – 22% in four years or fewer...

Just throw some more greenbacks at them and they'll stay, right? Maybe not:

    [S]imply offering them more money won't solve the problem, according to a report released Thursday.

    The real issue is working conditions, which are the flip side of a student's learning conditions, said Ken Futernick, who directs K-12 studies at the Center for Teacher Quality at Cal State Sacramento.

    His study, which was based on a survey of nearly 2,000 California teachers, maps a growing crisis that fundamentally affects student learning.

    The study also casts doubt on commonly pursued remedies both for the teacher shortage and student achievement in general.

The study lists the top reasons why California teachers quit teaching:

    Percent saying each reason affected decision

    Bureaucratic interference 57%
    Poor support from district 52%
    Low staff morale 45%
    Lack of resources 42%
    Unsupportive principal 42%

"Poor compensation" comes in at number 6, cited by 41 percent of respondents. Focus just on LA teachers and the story is quite similar: "L.A. Unified's data lists salary as the No. 9 reason why new hires leave."

In the TierneyLab, John Tierney touches on a similar theme. He cites a new study that finds that smart people aren't necessarily rich people:

    "Your IQ has really no relationship to your wealth," says Jay Zagorsky of Ohio State University, the author of the paper.

Why not? Zagorksy suggests smart people aren't saving enough. Tierney offers other thoughts, including:

    I also wonder if smart people are likelier than average to sacrifice income for intellectually stimulating jobs. It's easy to point to anecdotal evidence – like the career of Dr. William Hurwitz, whose finances I discuss in the previous post. His former wife, Nilse Quercia, told me that his family used to joke about the statewide award he'd won during high school for his mathematical ability. "We'd say, 'Billy, all your math skills sure didn't help when it came to making money.' "

In the past, I've pointed to other signs that more people are placing less importance on dollars and cents:

    Salary was one of the least important requirements of a dream job, cited by just 12 percent of respondents in [a new] survey by CareerBuilder.com.

In this overview of telecommuting trends (pdf), I point to other surveys where workers say they prefer perks like flexible schedules to more pay.

I think this is a fairly common pattern in America: An immigrant trades a desperately poor nation for America and takes whatever job's available, probably something like factory work since he doesn't have much formal education.

The immigrant's son gets a high school degree, maybe a college degree, and, still fueled by the immigrant experience, takes the highest-paying job available.

The grandson gets a college degree, maybe even an advanced degree. The grandson grows up in the land of plenty, not terribly worried about being destitute. Since he has the luxury of doing so, when he thinks about his career path he considers additional factors besides money (intellectual stimulation, personal fulfillment, work environment, schedule flexibility). He may even choose a less lucrative career than his father, because it makes him happier.

So simply crunching salary numbers will understate the progress made (the first generation to do worse than the one before it?!), because such calculations don't account for trade offs job seekers make. Lou Dobbs, White House wannabes, and others will get plenty of attention telling viewers with callus-free hands watching on flat-screen TVs that they're getting screwed.

Let's hope Granddad is still around to tell them how good they have it.

Related: If things are so great, why do I feel so lousy? Part V

Related: Why I'll take today's LA

Ted Balaker is Producer


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