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The Raise in Pay in November

January 16, 2014

The titled of this  Truthout article describes the easiest way to “fix” social security: “Make Wealthy Pay Social Security Taxes on Their Full Salaries— and Retirement Benefits Could Likely Be Expanded for All”. The concluding paragraph opens with this sentence: “When a nation values the accumulation of wealth over the welfare of its citizens, it has lost its soul.”  Two years ago I wrote this op ed piece. It was never published and some of the numbers have changed… but the message reinforces that of the Truthout article:

My Pay Raise

 Last year in November I received a 6.2% raise. It’s a raise I received around the same time of year for the past 20 years or so. The raise was unrelated to my job performance as Superintendent of Schools. I received the raise because my annual wage exceeded the Social Security wage base. I remember going to the payroll department the first time I received this raise in the late 1980s, believing the computer program had a glitch because it failed to deduct my social security payment. I was stunned when I learned that there was no mistake. I had, in effect, received additional take home pay because I was highly compensated.

 I am certain many readers aren’t aware that those earning over $106,800 receive a 6.2% raise at some point during the year. My raise comes relatively late. Those in the top 1%, earning in excess of roughly $380,000 receive their pay raise in mid-April. Those earning over $1,000,000 receive their raise in early February. Hedge fund managers, CEOs, and Wall Street bankers? They could be getting their raise by the end of the first week of January if salary reports I read in the newspaper are accurate. My pay raise last year amounted to roughly $1700, helpful, to be sure, but relatively inconsequential in terms of my total compensation. Those in the top 1% get ten times as much. The million-dollar wage earners get over $50,000. Hedge fund managers, CEOs and Wall Street Bankers? A lot more.

I can’t speak for others in my income bracket, but the unfairness of this pay raise hit home last year more than ever. I was working on budgets that called for cuts to classroom teachers. The public was asking that we negotiate new contracts with our employees that froze pay and reduced total compensation. The recession caused local employers to shed jobs.

In the past year I’ve read about state and federal politicians’ plans to attack the budget deficit by cutting social services. Worse of all, I’ve heard my adult children scoff at their chances of ever collecting on their social security contributions and become increasingly cynical about the government on all levels.

I’m now retired from my position as school superintendent and, so far, have deferred collecting social security. At some point I’ll need to draw on it, but

I realize that if those in the top 5% of wage earners lost their 6.2% raise it wouldn’t help school budget problems at all. And I know foregoing these raises wouldn’t reduce state or federal deficits. Nor would it completely eliminate the long term funding problems with social security. But if the Congress required those of us who are doing well to give up our 6.2% raise, it would show that they realize the need to make sacrifices today to help generations in the future. By making this small sacrifice, by giving up our raises, those of us who are doing well might help restore the next generation’s belief that our government can work.

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