Sunday, May 26, 2013

Yes It’s about Jobs and What’s Wrong with That-Thoughts on the CPS Closings

 There is so much to be said about the decision-made by the mayor-to close 50 Chicago schools that it is impossible to put it together in one coherent post. So let’s just focus on one particular criticism, the idea that the CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) is against this because it means their jobs. Greg Hinz states in a post while CPS has not been truthful, claiming the closings are that “good for the kids” when everybody knows it’s not, in his eyes CTU has been “if, anything, worse”. Why? The CTU is fighting for its members’ jobs. This makes the CTU worse then CPS?

CPS has
 1) lied about “savings”—any savings will be long-term and depend on may factors difficult to properly predict.  They will not be realized now, the sheer chaos that will ensue to complete the process will more likely cost more in the short-term, which completely undercuts the claim that so many schools must be closed now.

2) lied about “utilization”—there are many issues with this line but just to give a few examples when groups such as Raise Your hand insisted that there were no empty rooms in these underutilized schools there was no response, special education kids simply weren’t counted, CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll is on record claiming 40 kids in a classroom is ok.

3) claimed that kids are going better schools, in most cases they are not.

3) not engaged in any meaningful dialogue with parents or the CTU.

4) had the nerve to state at the hearing that people who couldn’t understand that closing schools would save money “did not understand economics”—this coming from a body that hadn’t release a budget yet for the next year, and in fact has released very few financial details about anything.  

So in one corner we have the CPS knowingly plunging thousands of families into what appears to a poorly thought-out, haphazard plan. (It is worth noting for all the national “education reformers” around, none appeared to have weighed in on the CPS closings. Is that perhaps because they know a train wreck when they see one and have made sure to stay away?) CPS has put young kids in real danger, both in terms of gang lines that will be crossed and the fact that many will have to walk a least a mile to school. Most significantly, and probably the least covered by the mainstream media, is the destabilization of vulnerable communities that will occur. Schools provide an important community anchor, if anything a reporter and a mayor who claim to want to reduce violence would want increase investment in these communities. That’s a tall order, and nobody really expects it. But to deliberately make things worse?

In the other corner we have the CTU, as well as various SEIU locals, who are working with parents and community members to keep schools open. Yes, they are fighting for their jobs, for the right to take care of other people’s children and get paid for it. While everybody insists that the focus should be on the children-it’s interesting how people are always insisting that adults’ interests must diverge from the kids they work or live with-the adults matter too. The adults that use the school as part of the community, the adults that have these good union jobs to support their families and communities, especially at the lower end of the income scale, these adults are important. They are more important then the small groups of executives who the mayor pays to work downtown in the name of economic development, the money that these people earn will be sent back into the community, as opposed to overseas bank accounts or tax shelters.

This, this, is worse then CPS? Oh, you might say, that’s all well and good but . . . we don’t have the money for it.

The idea that we “don’t have the money for it” is simply not true. Everybody knows that the mayor (any mayor really) of this city always has money for business interests, and even while part of the city government was claiming there was no money, another was ready with a check. In another post Greg Hinz defends the Mayor’s plan to fund a stadium for DePaul and related development around McCormick place because of . . . jobs.

These are the jobs Hinz and the mayor like, low-end retail jobs. The kind that you have to work two of to make ends meet. The kind of jobs that still require food stamps to feed your kids. The kind of jobs that even people with  college degrees are working; some sources have estimated there are three applicants for every job opening, even in such touted areas as STEM jobs.

As explained in this post by an "underachieving visionary” the kind of job where you don’t have choice in the hours (you must take what you can get, when you can get it), the kind of job you are expected to give your heart and sole into, and a random happenstance can cause you to lose it. Looking at the advertisements for jobs at the Tenement Museum, where this person lost her job, I was struck by the long list of qualifications for a job that was clearly part-time and probably didn’t pay much more then minimum wage.

But it doesn’t matter, they are jobs. These, Hinz is telling us, are the kind of jobs worthy of public money-not “salaries for members of the teachers and police unions”.  So there you go, paying public workers is not a good use of public dollars, throwing money at private entities for an economic development plan that will clearly benefit a few much more then the majority, whose planning seems as well thought-out as CPS’s plan to close schools, that is appropriate.

What is the purpose of city government? Most people would say to serve its residents, to support economic security as much as possible. “Economic security" being described here as having as many residents as possible employed at “good jobs”. “Good jobs” being those that pay at least $15 dollars an hour, some essential benefits such as sick time, health care. How to best stimulate employment is a controversial subject, if it was easy we’d had done it by now. But, up until recently it was expected that public sector jobs, mostly teachers, firefighters, police officers, were a significant “leg” of the stool.  It appears clear that federal stimulus is not happening any time soon, so states are very much on their own to create/suppport economic security any way they can. One could make the argument that in such a time a government should  try to employ as many people as they reasonably can.

The union part here is important, unionization is what can make a “bad” job a “good” one. It is accepted across the political spectrum that the way to improve wages and benefits is through a union. In a recent opinion piece economist Timothy Noah noted that:

The decline of labor unions is what connects the skills-based gap to the 1 percent-based gap. Although conservatives often insist that the 1 percent’s richesse doesn’t come out of the pockets of the 99 percent, that assertion ignores the fact that labor’s share of gross domestic product is shrinking while capital’s share is growing. Since 1979, except for a brief period during the tech boom of the late 1990s, labor’s share of corporate income has fallen According to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, the G.D.P. shift from labor to capital explains fully one-third of the 1 percent’s run-up in its share of national income. It couldn’t have happened if private-sector unionism had remained strong. . . But if economic growth depends on rewarding effort, we should all worry that the middle classes aren’t getting pay increases commensurate with the wealth they create for their bosses. Bosses aren’t going to fix this problem.

And apparently the mayor of Chicago isn’t either.  

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