Archive for May, 2021

Teenagers Working is a PROBLEM? I Don’t Think So!

May 31, 2021 Comments off

The NYTimes has an article in their business section today with this headline and lede: 

The Luckiest Workers in America? Teenagers.

Teens are picking up jobs — and higher wages — as companies scramble to hire. But that trend could have a downside.

As a teenager who worked part-time from grades 7-12 in order to pay for my Freshman year of college, begin a record collection, and have money for movie dates and proms I am very happy to see that teenagers are getting the opportunity to get back to work! And the work they are doing will teach them lessons and give them experiences that public schools cannot begin to replicate. But NYTimes Jeanna Smialek and David McKay DID find a downside: some educators fear that the work will detract from their academics AND the hiring to date has benefitted white teenagers more that minorities: 

Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market.

The first part of that concern, that “jobs could distract from school”, is invalid in this day and age. If anything, schools should be working with employers to integrate what students witness at work into their academics and using the students’ work experiences to illustrate the relationship between what it being taught in the classroom with the skills students need on the job. Teachers who pretend that what THEY teach in their classes is more important than what employers expect their workers to know contribute to the students’ perceptions that there is a disconnect between work and learning. There isn’t. When students work they are learning about human behavior and, in many cases, applying the humanistic principles they garner from reading literature and the basic mathematics and algebra skills they learn in the classroom. This connection was not obvious to me when I delivered newspapers, mowed lawns, did landscaping work, moved furniture, painted hospital rooms, or worked on an assembly line. But when I had time to reflect on it as an adult I came to realize that there was an explicit connection that an artful teacher could have made if they realized what I was doing apart from the school and demonstrated those links to me. 

The second part of that concern, “that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market” could also be addressed by schools if they re-directed the role of counselors away from preparing students for college and focussed more on transitioning students to adulthood. Our culture’s obsession with college attendance combined with taxpayer’s unwillingness to fully fund public education means that any expansion of the duties of counselors to address NON-college bound students is an impossibility. If we want to connect with all children in school and especially if we hope to help minority students take advantage of hot job markets, we need to have counselors who are connected with the job market capable of connecting able and willing job seekers to job openings AND to provide support for those who have never held a job to succeed once they have a placement. Instead of seeing guidance counselors and college placement coaches we should view them as “life coaches”. And to do that requires MORE counselors and, therefore, more money. 

The influx of federal money might provide an opportunity for additional counselors to provide not only the post-Covid mental health services described in numerous articles but the link to the suddenly hot job openings that are emerging in the coming months as the economy opens up. NOW might be the opportunity to redefine the mission of counseling, particularly in those states like NH and VT who have established mechanisms for students to get academic credit for relevant workplace experiences. 

Carpe Diem! 

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“Right-to-Work” Laws, Rooted in Racism, Beloved by Business, Exacerbate Inequality

May 31, 2021 Comments off

Today’s Valley News features an informative op ed by Michael Honey and Gail Kinney on the racist roots of “Right-to-Work” laws, offering it as a reason New Hampshire voters should call their legislators to stop them from enacting a bill that would make our state one the only one in New England to provide employees with such “rights”. The op ed focuses on Martin Luther King Jr’s commitment to unionization as a means of helping Blacks working in the public sector to secure the kinds of middle class wages and working conditions, and it explains why the word “rights” is placed in quotation marks in the earlier sentence: 

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his work to overturn legal segregation in the South. The struggle of King and others won passage of the Civil Rights Act’s guarantees of equal rights in public accommodations, education, and at work. We still struggle to make those rights real. King felt that to change America’s racial inequalities and reduce poverty, weneeded something more: union rights.

He resisted powerful people and institutions opposing unions and workers’ collective action, especially across racial lines. During the Jim Crow era, a wealthy Texas industrialist, Vance Muse, was a prime architect of socalled “right to work” legislation. His clear purpose was to divide workers so they would have weak bargaining power, ultimately resulting in lower wages, fewer benefits and compromised working conditions.

Muse made no effort to hide the racism at the core of “right to work.” He declared that if such laws were not passed, “white women and white men will be forced into organizations (meaning unions) with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

King argued long and hard to stop these laws. “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It is a dishonest twisting of words with the aim of making a vicious law sound like a good law. It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”

Alas, opposing a bill because of its racist roots will not persuade today’s pro-business libertarians in the GOP, as their embrace of school vouchers indicates. ANY law that prevents workers from gaining power, ANY law that prevents groups from coalescing against shareholders for ANY reason, ANY law that diminishes the voices of individuals is opposed by those in control. 

The only way to push back against vicious laws that sound like good laws is to get citizens to understand the real intent of this legislation: which is to continue funneling money upward to those who own vast numbers of shares of various businesses while suppressing the wages of those who do the actual work. MAYBE the overreach of the New Hampshire legislature will backfire when gig workers see that their “right to work” 80 hours driving for Uber pays less than those in unions who work 35 hours per week, get vacations and sick leave, and have their retirement contributions matched by their employer. 

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NH Budget Has Everything… Except Money for Public Schools

May 30, 2021 Comments off

Conservatives generally tend to favor limited government oversight of local issues, limited spending by the government to achieve social goals, and fiscal prudence. Those conservative principles have long been associated with the GOP. But NH’s GOP legislature has re-defined the meaning of “conservative” and public education will suffer the consequences of this redefinition the most. And now public schools find themselves hoping against hope that GOP Governor Sununu, a “classic conservative”, will reject the budget as written and send it back for revisions. 

The budget adopted by the NH House and Senate and now awaiting the Governor’s signature includes a provision that allow New Hampshire parents to use public funds for private school tuition, a de facto voucher program with the glossy label of “Education Freedom Accounts”. It also has a a measure to ban abortions in the state after a fetus reaches 24 weeks, and last, but not least, language from New Hampshire’s “divisive concepts” legislation that would prohibit schools and public entities from teaching that one race or gender is superior to another, and would ban the teaching that a person is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” None of these are “budget” issues in the traditional sense. They are all hot-button legislative issues bundled into a bill that funds the day-to-day operation of the State in conformance with laws that are on the books. There is no law that allows education funds to be spent for religious schools and there ARE laws that restrict such spending. There is no law on the books to ban abortions in the state after a fetus reaches 24 weeks nor is there any plausible link between such a law and the State’s spending plan. There is no State law that forbids schools from discussing “divisive concepts” nor is there any plausible link between such a law and the State’s spending plan. 

At the same time as the State AG is suing to allow the money for American Rescue Act to allow those funds to underwrite a tax cut instead of going to help those who lost wages during the pandemic and need support in the coming months to transition back, GOP lawmakers voted to reduce New Hampshire’s business taxes, its meals and rooms tax, and to gradually eliminate entirely its interest and dividends tax. Basically, the fiscal conservatives are buying into the failed “trickle down” theory of government espoused by GOP since the Reagan era and compounding the problem by cutting revenue sources that are already limited in NH. There is one obvious problem with embracing this theory: unlike the federal government who racked up deficits in the years after GOP-led legislatures at the federal level adopted “trickle down” thinking, STATE legislatures cannot operate at a deficit. If the forecasted business expansion doesn’t materialize as expected, look for deep cuts in the future because as long as the GOP is in charge of the State budget tax increases will be off the table. 

In a commentary piece that appeared in The New Hampshire Bulletin ACLU-NH advocate Jeanne Hruska outlined the horrific elements of the budget headed for the Governor’s desk and tried to divine the reason for the shift in their thinking about the role of government and came to this conclusion: 

The toxicity of Washington has finally reached Concord, and it’s not a good look, New Hampshire. This obsession with culture wars, on censoring speech, and targeting civil rights, it’s ugly. It makes our state look abysmal.

And the failure to adequately fund public schools, to adopt short-sighted tax policy that diminishes revenues in the long run, and the seeming willingness to walk away from federal funds in the name of even deeper tax cuts is worse that “ugly”… it’s irresponsible. At this juncture only Chris Sununu can stop this train wreck of a budget from becoming law. He reportedly likes the idea of implementing the arguably extra-legal school vouchers, opposes the abortion restrictions, and believes the “controversial issues” rider to the budget is an over-reach. Being a true blue GOP conservative, he finds tax cuts appealing no matter how many times “trickle down” economics has failed. Will he stop the train wreck or yield to the know-nothing element of his party? Stay tuned….