I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teachers on the Edge of Poverty

Bruce Baker has an important post up about the Opportunity Scholarship Act - New Jersey's voucher bill. Basically, the way the bill is now written, it would be little more than a massive giveaway of tax funds to yeshivas in Lakewood and, to a lesser degree, Passaic; somewhere on the order of $67 million. All voucher supporters should have to answer to Bruce's arguments here.

But his post also struck me for this:
NJOSA would provide scholarships to children in families below the 250% income threshold for poverty. The text of the bill indicates that eligible children are those either attending a chronically failing school in one of the districts above or eligible to enroll in such school in the following year (which would seem to include any child within the attendance boundaries of these districts even if presently already enrolled in private schools). [emphasis mine]
Here's the language of the bill on eligibility:
"Low-income child" means a child from a household with an income that does not exceed 2.50 times the official federal poverty threshold for the calendar year preceding the school year for which an educational scholarship is to be distributed.
What does that translate into for a dollar amount? Well, the poverty level for a family of four in the contiguous 48 states is $22,350. 250% of that is $55, 875.

Understand, however, that this doesn't really take into account that New Jersey is an expensive place to live, particularly when accounting for housing costs. According to this living wage calculator from Penn State, a living wage in Newark is more than three times the poverty wage. So think about all that for a second... then consider this:

The median teacher salary in New Jersey is $57,467. In other words, the typical, college-educated, New Jersey teacher is making a wage barely above what the OSA bill calls "low-income."

"Wait!" scream the trolls! "You get summers off!" Yes, lucky us: we have an unpaid furlough every summer, so we have to go find seasonal work for minimum wage. Gosh, what fun!

"But, but, but... GOLD-PLATED BENEFITS!" Yeah, funny about that: in a few years, that teacher making the median salary will be paying thousands of dollars a year more for both pension and health care; in fact, the drain on teacher pay has already started. Thanks, Senator Sweeney, you great friend of unions!

I dare any supporter of OSA to tell me that teachers are "well-paid" - especially you, governor.

ADDING: Oops! Just realized I'm using the poverty guidelines, and the bill uses the poverty thresholds. Stand by...

The Federal Poverty Threshold in 2011 for a family of four is $23,018. 250% is $57,545. My median teacher number is from 2010, so it's a Gala-to-Macintosh comparison: pretty darn close.

I really do try to get this stuff right.


Anonymous said...

"""I really do try to get this stuff right."""

Yes. This is what makes it so sad. A music major apparently doesn't delve into things like the difference between median and typical, or family of four number versus one wage, and about ten other jawdroppers in here.

Duke, you should be clapping like a circus seal for the OSA. According to you, the reason inner city schools are lousy is because of poor kids. The OSA will siphon off those poor kids.

Anybody making near what a teacher makes won't even be able to apply.

Anonymous said...

""""The Federal Poverty Threshold in 2011 for a family of four is $23,018. 250% is $57,545."""

uh.....no, it's not. But congrats on the tone of conviction throughout your "evidence".

Anonymous said...

Uh.... yes, it is.

Lisa said...

According to:

the federal government's census data, the poverty threshold by size of family and number of children for 2011 for a family of four with two children is $22,811. That makes the NJOSA eligibility cap $57,027.50.

How is "median" not "typical?" It's the midpoint of a frequency distribution, so 50% are higher and 50% are lower. What could be more "typical" than that?

As for families of four vs one wage (what does that mean, anyway?), We've been one for about half the past decade, since my husband's heart attack and then later his unemployment, and my teacher's salary (BA + half a masters...can't afford to finish it right now...) puts me less than $2000 higher than the NJOSA cap. Now my kids are over 18. Interestingly though, based on my salary and the rates at the time my kids were 17, we would have been eligible.

Not only am I pretty "median," I'm also not atypical in this economy. I pay taxes just like everyone else, my taxes increase just like everyone else's, they pay for the same things, and I work way harder to pay them than when I was a private sector employee.

So much for anonymous assumptions.

Duke said...

Hi Lisa,

There are some small variations in the numbers depending on which ones you use. I used the "Preliminary Estimates of Weighted Average Poverty Thresholds for 2011"; you use the "Poverty thresholds by Size of Family and Number of Children."

I am not an expert in these things, but it really doesn't matter - the variation is so small as to be relevant only to those who live to pick nits.

You are absolutely right about "typical." There is, as far as I know, no strict statistical definition for "typical," which is precisely why I used the word. Any regular reader of this blog knows I am quite aware of the difference between mean and median: I do have graduate-level training in descriptive statistics. Worrying about whether I used "typical" is again, nit-picking, only even more irrelevant than which number I used.

Your situation is hardly unusual; I wish you and your husband the best.

I obviously have no problem with anonymity, although I (and you) use a pseudonym. There is a difference, because I can follow a train of thought across several posts with a pseudonym. Anon #1 and #2, I don't even know if you're the same person or not.

Unlike B4K's Facebook page, I do not ban anyone as long as they don't cross the line and become abusive. But I feel no obligation to respond to gainsaying. I trust my readers to ascertain for themselves whether trollish behavior is worth my - or their - time.

I always appreciate when you drop by, Lisa!

Lisa said...

Oh Duke, I hope you know I was responding to our resident troll and not your post. My intent was to highlight the accuracy of your (always thorough and researched) data...and vocabulary, and to verify the point of your post by putting a very real, personal face on your analysis.

[shift focus]

This is real life, Anonymous. I live it every day. It's not a talking point at a fake town hall for a YouTube moment. I wish Duke's analysis wasn't accurate. I would much rather be living your Fox fantasy.

Duke said...

Absolutely knew that, Lisa. Appreciate the kind words.