Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

The United States remains one of the richest countries in the world, but many Americans go to bed hungry at night. Local agencies that assist low-income people have seen significant increases in requests for food. At the Father McKenna Center at St. Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C., for instance, a staff member, Virginia Jenkins, spoke to America of an African-American mother who “comes in every 15 days for food for herself and her five children. We give her enough to finish out the month—otherwise she would go hungry.” This mother is just one of the increasing number of men, women and children who visit the center in search of food as a stopgap against hunger. The fact that the church is within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol reflects the federal government’s inability to cope with the rising tide of hunger nationwide. Food insecurity (uncertain access to adequate food) has become an increasingly serious problem as the recession continues. Black and Hispanic households experience food insecurity at far higher rates than white ones. Some 50 million people currently live in food-insecure households.

Sadly, the situation is likely to get worse rather than better. In late July the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, attached an amendment to a job and education bill that would increase federal matching funds to help states cover Medicaid expenses and teachers’ salaries to prevent more teacher layoffs. But funding cuts that must be made elsewhere to finance this (almost $12 billion) would include reductions in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that provides food stamps. Food stamp enrollment has grown rapidly during the recession, and enrollment is at an all-time high, with over 40 million recipients—a 50-percent increase since the economic downturn began. The media periodically carry stories of impoverished men and women who, along with their children, depend on food stamps from month to month as their only source of income. In Lee City, Fla., for example, 15,000 people reported earlier this year that they had no income at all apart from their food stamps.


But now, because of the cuts, a family of four can expect their food stamp benefits to drop by $59 a month. Anti-hunger advocates who strongly oppose the cuts note that this would mean returning benefits to lower levels at a time when many households already run out of food by the third or fourth week of the month. Advocates also point out that the cuts could increase obesity by making it more difficult for families to buy healthful foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. At a time when the unemployment rate, now around 10 percent, is predicted to remain high through 2013, Senator Reid’s amendment is indeed what Representative Rosa de Lauro of Connecticut called a “bitter pill.” Cutting back on one necessity to pay for another is a cruel tax on some of America’s most vulnerable people.

Growing food insecurity became evident last December, when the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued its status report on hunger and homelessness. The report found that the number of requests for emergency food assistance increased by 26 percent the preceding year, the largest yearly average increase ever in the cities surveyed. Half the cities reported that the demand jumped by 30 percent. Not surprisingly, unemployment was cited by 92 percent of the reporting agencies as the primary cause of this increase, followed by housing costs. Six cities reported that even middle class families who used to donate to food pantries are now seeking assistance for themselves. This circumstance, as the survey put it, was one of the elements that has caused new challenges for food pantries, not least because middle-class families in need of assistance are “unfamiliar with accessing social services.”

Because of these increased demands in both pantries and soup kitchens, food assistance agencies, according to three-quarters of the respondents in the survey, have had to cut back on what they can offer. Philadelphia, for instance, reported a 45-percent unmet need because of cutbacks food pantries were forced to make in the amount each client was allowed to receive regularly.

Families should not have to cut back on one necessity to pay for another, like having to choose between food and medical care. Food stamps, one of the key elements of the safety net for poor American families, are too important a lifeline for families already weighed down by the recession. Jim Weill, president of the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center, has said that it would be “an outrage to fund even the best of programs by taking money away from the neediest people in the country, and we’re going to oppose it.” So should Congress.

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Mike Evans
8 years 1 month ago
Where is the forceful statement about this travesty of funding from our U.S. Bishops? Were is the behind the scenes negotiating with the Obama administration and the congressional leadership? Our local food pantry supported and operated by 14 churches has also had to reduce our services to only a maximum of once a month to assist families in extreme need. Last year we received a supplemental Emergency Food and Shelter program grant. This year none and the basic grant was reduced by almost 20% due to a reduced federal allocation. What is worse, the funding is delayed until March each year when there is huge demand in November through February, the dire and dark winter period. As a nation we are stingy, selfish and cruel to those who are struggling the most. The Lord hears the cry of the poor; does anyone else?
C Walter Mattingly
8 years 1 month ago
During WWII, the most common cause of rejection from entrance into the Army was malnutrition. Clearly, these men were not getting enough calories for their hardscrabble lifestyle. Today, the most common cause of rejection from entrance into the Army is obesity. Clearly, these men are not starving but rather getting too many calories for their relatively inactive lifestyle. As Michele Obama constantly reiterates, too many bad food choices and too much video game playing. There are today more displaced street people than there should be, but the majority of the problems of the chronically poor today are related to a lack of the self-discipline that a good upbringing, prominently including a good education, promulgates in them. This is being denied to them by our terrible inner-city public school system.
The first and most useful thing the bishops could do to solve the problem (the soup kitchens assuage the symptom) is forcefully preach from the pulpits and their seats for vouchers for inner city children, which would provide them a decent chance to develop a moral sense, self-control, delayed gratification, and educational skills that the parochials schools, which are not dominated by unions who consider the children secondary priorities, are better able to provide. Even more importantly, it would force the public school system to respond to an alternative source for quality education, to the benefit of those students also. Then these young men and women could experience the pride of self-sufficiency rather than depend on welfare.
Kevin Murray
8 years 1 month ago
As usual, scripture says it best - from this Sunday's first reading from the book of Amos:

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done!
Mike Evans
8 years 1 month ago
Walter, we cannot play the 'blame the victim' game. The poor cannot help themselves when there are no jobs, no benefits, nor affordable housing. The elderly are squeezed to the bone to take care of their grandchildren. Construction laborers can find no work at all even though they are willing to put in long hours. The disastrous economy is particularly harsh in rural towns and small cities. Unless we can bring the basic health and welfare of the poor to a priority, we shall be judged harshly by the world and by God. No more excuses!
Christopher Kuczynski
8 years 1 month ago
Mr. Mattingly's comments are characteristically ludicrous.  Whatever one may think about the merits or mischief of school vouchers and teachers' unions, it ought to be beyond question that our children can't learn if their basic needs aren't met. It will not do to promise hope for a better life some time in the future, when families are hungry right now.  When Jesus fed the crowds, he didn't ask why the people were hungry (Had they foolishly forgotten to bring food with them?  Had they made bad choices about money, work, or education that kept them impoverished?).  Nor did he ask what public policy choices might enable people to make better lives for themselves so that one day they would not have to go hungry. 

Census figures released this week tell us that more than 43 million Americans live in poverty.  How many more million would have been added to this number had their been no unemployment insurance for those hit hard by the recession?  Should we tell our brothers and sisters living in poverty to wait and see if school vouchers and union busting will reform our schools so that our children will be prepared to work in all of those jobs created by tax cuts for the rich?
Patrick Eicker
8 years 1 month ago
You guys need to request a copy of the memo. Its major point is that the USA is busted!
TM Lutas
8 years 1 month ago
There have been repeated successful challenges where knowledgeable people actually stay within food stamp budgets and document on the Internet how this culinary can be done in the real world providing adequate nutrition. Clearly a lot of people don't know how to do it. 

Along with the food, we need to spread this knowledge. This is not hard hearted or cruel. It is as much a service as providing the food for those who do not know how to make it within the food stamp budget.

I don't condemn people for not knowing how to manage the trick of frugal shopping and food prep. But the fix for that is not to up the budget at a time when we are beyond broke but to educate people how to cook nutritiously and frugally with the charity we can, should, and do give them.  

People are depending on pensions, American society has insufficient money to pay, health insurance we will not be able to sustainably deliver, and social services we can not sustainably fund. A lot of people are going to be hurt as it becomes more clear how bankrupt we are (approximately $130T in the hole over 75 years, or 1.3T every 9 months). If we can stretch food charity with food preparation education (and it's not that expensive to do), there's that much money to resolve the other major challenges coming down the pipe. 

The american people have been lied to about what we can afford to provide and people depended on those false promises for decades. Unwinding those lies is going to hurt a lot of people and the Church needs to be prepared. Economic growth needs to be a priority so we have some of that 1.3T/9months in our pockets and we need to make providing basic needs much more efficient. 
8 years 1 month ago

Deacon Evans and Mr. Kuczynski, Mr Mattingly made a suggestion as to what to do to solve the subject issue.  The pair of you quite obviously disagree with him for your various reasons.  But at least he made a suggestion.  The pair of you have only criticized his solution.  It is fine to disagree, but I would like to see a constructive criticism not the negative  criticism you both evince.  What is your solution?

As Christians shouldn't we be discussing this issue in a constructive fashion instead of throwing verbal darts at him?

LaRue Withers
8 years 1 month ago
That's right, blame the victims, especially the children. 

Every one of you should read "How the Irish Saved Civilization."  A portion of the book discusses the fall of Rome, how and why it happened.  The rich and the elite did not pay taxes, the poor could not pay taxes and the middle class, of course, were the only ones who had to pay taxes and so became poorer and poorer from carrying the whole load.  (Sound familiar?)  Rome could no longer even afford to have an army (is that something like borrowing from China to fight wars???).  In this wealthy country, the wealthy demand more and more "breaks," promising jobs (WHERE ARE THEY?).  People frustrate the system by disallowing the majority to make policy, simply to get more power for themselves.  Hungry children cannot learn, but who wanted to cut food for children in schools?  Three guesses and the first two don't count.  This person sounds like a couple of the women running for office who call those without work lazy.  God help the poor if they get into office.  The wealthy get breaks in taxes so they can take jobs overseas (Citicorp just did exactly that - have made more jobs, but certainly not in the United  States).  It's easy to see why Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle.  They never get enough and they don't care who gets trampled down by them as they get more and more and more.  When we don't remember history we are doomed to repeat it and we are on the downward run.

No one will be paying taxes before long, because there are no jobs - they are gone to cheap foreign labor for more and more profits for those who already have.  They even want people to invest for their social security, because then they have a vested interest in doing the same thing.  There is only one thing to be done - exactly what FDR did - yes, there will be inflation for a while, but once people can make money they can pay taxes.  I am so tired of hearing whiney rich people infer that people don't work in this country because they really don't want to while CEO's carry off millions for failing and even throw it in our faces.  These kinds of people don't have a clue what it is like, especially if they are white (yes, I AM).

I have not seen so much hate since we started bussing.  How vividly I remember that woman in Louisville.  You see, they always claimed that the schools were separate but equal.  I can still remember the hate on her face when she screamed - those schools are not fit for my children!!! How well I remember living in the south where a black woman would be paid $5.00 a day for baby-sitting and doing the housework for a working mother - $5.00 for more than an eight-hour day, and didn't want to cause any trouble when her children were bussed out of town to a black school, miles away from their homes. 

 No matter what these people try to say, they hate our president because he is black.  As far as they are concerned he is an "uppity you-know-what."  Oh, they don't want to lay claim to their prejudice, but there it is - that's why they try to say he is not a citizen or that he is a Muslim - it's a good time right now for them to do so.  They seem to think that they have an excuse for hating - I don't think so!  They gain their power through fear.  And they realize that if you repeat something over and over and over again, people will start to believe it.  Politicians continue to affirm their hate and prejudice by remaining silent or actually "egging them on," like the person who says, "Well, I'll take him at his word."  Others use the airways to straight out lie.  They outright lie and don't think a thing about it.  Who are these people????  It will not be moral turpitude that brings this country down; it will be the refusal to do exactly what Jesus told us to do.

I guess they should  read the Sermon on the Mount first and then "How the IRish Saved Civilization."  For some reason there are innumerable so-called Christians in this country who think that Jesus didn't really mean what He said. 

Parochial schools?  People in this country don't give enough money to their churches to support parochial schools, or hospitals or anything else.  If they did, this country would not be in the mess it is in, because people would be taking care of one another, rather than hoarding their money to buy "things" for themselves.  What is the saying that pretty much fits today??  The one who dies with the biggest toy wins.  As long as we have that kind of mentality, there is no hope. 

Excuse me - Mr. Mattingly suggested how someone else could do something.  What he does not say is schools can choose who they want to take and who they do not.  You surely know what that means.

Christopher Kuczynski
8 years 1 month ago
Mr. Collins:

Where did we ever get the idea that to be a Christian or a Catholic demands nothing more than debating in a civil manner - as if everyt person's opinion is entitled to equal weight.  Jesus told us that following the Gospel means that we must hate our parents, our families, and our friends.  I don't think this means that we are literally to hate others.  But we are supposed to speak the truth, whatever the cost.

I am sorry if you consider me ungentlemanly for speaking out against what Mr. Mattingly had to say.  But it saddens me to see that I live in a world poor people are shunted aside and told that they ought to be joyful an glad, for one day the Kingdom of  God wil be theirs.  I am one of those people who society would be happy to marginalize, and every day I live with the reality that there are those who would say to me, as a person with a disability, that I ought to be content to live in isolation - in the hope that family and friends will take care of me. 
Just why is it that the poor and disadv antaged Christians should simply be expected to live in the hope of the future of the Kingdom of God, while rich Christians (who daily live in a state that Jesus clearly spoke of as sinful) should be able to say that they are just as worthy of the Kingdom of God as everyone else?

As for ideas for how we should solve the problem of food insecurity, I have plenty, Mr. Collins.  And if you have read any of my comments and letters in America in the past, you would haveti an insight into what some of them are.  We should not be throwing valuable resources away on Mr. Bush's and Mr. Obama's misaventures in Iraq and Afghanistan - trying to reform people who have no more interest in Democracy as the Man on the Moon.  If we want to wage unjustified war, then let all of us pay for it - in treasure and travaill.  The stitmulus should have been twice as much as it was.  We should be rebuilding our shattered infrastructure, and providing jobs to people at the same time.  Let's try developing renewable energy sources.  Let's all try living a more modest life.  But when I say all, I mean all; the burden of living more modestly should not fall upon those least able to bear it!  Let's try being Christians; not disciples of Ronald Reagan!
C Walter Mattingly
8 years 1 month ago
Mike, first thank you for your service as deacon in our church. Don't know what we would do without our deacon Paul right now.
I think you have misread or misunderstood my "placing the blame" upon the victims. Such blame as I do place is clearly upon the disastrous state of our public schools, particularly in the inner cities. The welfare state also shares the blame, as anyone who has seen the movie Precious can easily recognize. (Bill Clinton, a much more careful and conservative guardian of the public treasure than George Bush, who increased nondefense spending almost twice as much as Clinton, deserves great credit for reforming welfare and reducing the welfare rolls from 14 to 6 1/2 million.)
Maybe I can clarify the issues by referring to some experiences and statistics, some anecdotes and some facts.
The last 19 years of my restaurant experience was in a low income, predominately minority neighborhood. Two of the D/F middle schools and two of the F highschools were nearby. Over the years I was called upon to do small caterings for various schools, including the middle school and the parochial grammar school. Both nearby, both with similar demographics and incomes. I would arrive shortly before lunch with the food. In the middle school, the disarray in the halls and disorder in the classrooms was appalling. At the parochial school, it was totally the opposite. That is anecdotal; this is not: over 85% of the graduates of the parochial school went on to post secondary education; 57% of the graduates of the middle school did.
Here's a different but related example. A friend, a single mother and excellent musician, had a son who was having academic and social difficulties at his public school which were not approving. At considerable expense of time and effort, she managed to get the assistant principal, the school counselor, and two of his teachers to meet after school at 5 p.m.  Two days before the scheduled meeting, the counselor called and informed her that the meeting had to be cancelled because the local union told the teachers not to participate. Though this mother could ill afford it, she withdrew her son from the school and paid full tuition for him to attend a nearby private school at an annual expense of $7200.
Her withdrawal cost the union not a dime, and obviously it concluded its members' interests exceeded those of the student. Suppose, however, that this mother had been offered a voucher if she so chose? My guess is that because that money would be drawn directly out of the monies allocated to schools, a good portion of which would have gone to teachers' salaries, and some of that to union dues, that the union, fearing the loss of income, would likely have permitted that meeting.  
Such competition would have tremendous benefit for improving education, which is a great factor in developing delayed gratification, discipline, and in the case of parochial schools at least, moral sense. Unlike food stamps, this would have the long-term potential to seriously reduce the problem.
Milton Friedman, the renowned American economist of the last century, said late in his career that the 3 things needed to keep America prosperous were to control spending, to keep the money supply growing at a slow and steady pace, and to allow vouchers in education. The first two were no surprise, but Friedman saw the importance of establishing competition in education as of equal importance to the first two.
While few would argue in this disastrous unemployment situation of the last 2 years that we should extend benefits to the needy, they should not be contrary to human nature. One unemployed man wrote recently that he turned down a job offer of only $385 a week. He had been making over $500 at his old job, and his unemployment check was $435 a week. Why, he asked, should he take a cut in income to go to work? Anyone in human resources would tell this person that the best way to get back to over $500 a week of income if no such job had materialized or on the horizon would be to take the lesser job and work back up or look for a better opportunity while employed. The longer unemployed, the harder to become employed. Yet here the government discourages him from doing so. He was unemployed, not stupid.
Nothing extends unemployment longer and more efficiently than subsidizing it.

C Walter Mattingly
8 years 1 month ago
Chris: I agree with you that many of my comments and related issues are ludicrous. It is ludicrous that we as a nation pay our teachers the top or next to the top salaries in the world, and that their performance as measured by student achievement is 18th of 24 among major industrial nations. It is ludicrous that for these highest salaries, the US public school system has the fewest school days (180 per year) and the fewest classroom hours of any of these 24 nations. It is ludicrous that when cutbacks occur in teacher ranks, a distinguished teacher with only a few years in grade is terminated while a teacher who has had poor performance evaluations for several years is retained. (This distinguished  teacher was admonished by fellow teachers for spending time after school with his students, offering them extra help, thereby violating union work restrictions. How dare he do that to them!).
All that is ludicrous. And unfortunately, all that is true. Something we all should speak up about, no matter the cost.
I would not propose forcing anything upon our brothers and sisters in regard to school choice, but rather offer than an option. I would ask the parents in the inner city neighborhoods that have failing schools whether or not they would like to have vouchers as educational options for their children. Would it be Christian to deny them that choice?
It is true that parochial schools can refuse troublesome students and expell those who act out violently. That is also true of these public schools. Those who curse teachers or commit serious violations are expelled from neighborhood schools and sent to special schools, the prospect of which is not looked upon favorably.
I have already read How the Irish Saved Civilization (excellent), also The Gift of the Jews and 2 others of the Hinges of History series. Cahill is one of my favorites. It is interesting to consider the plight of the Irish, who in some ways were in greater peril of starvation and exploitation than even African slaves.
We have seen the terrible loss of life in the slave ships in movies such as Armistaad. It is estimated that 10% of those impressed lost their lives crossing the Atlantic. Yet in the Coffin Ships, so named for obvious reasons, the loss of life has been estimated at 20%. Why? The income of the slavers was dependent upon delivering healthy slaves to the market. They were paid for each live slave. The income of those manning the coffin ships was received at boarding. Whether they survived or not did not affect their income.
Likewise the most dangerous and appalling jobs. In New Orleans that may have been the dredging activities, done in swampy, malarial and yellow fever infested waters. The life expectancy for these workers has been estimated at 2 years. Did slaves do this work? Of course not. A black man was worth $300; no one would want to lose that asset. Give the Irishman a dollar a week and a few bottles of wine, and presto. And when he got sick, there were plenty of new arrivals at the docks to fill his position.
How did the Irish overcome this disadvantage, all those Irish Need Not Apply signs in employment windows? Simple: strong families, church, and a good parochial school education system. While we cannot directly provide a strong family to these children, we can provide a semblance of that education, and if so chosen, a portion of those moral values.
I think that is the Christian thing to do, don't you?
As far as avoiding Ronald Reagan goes, do you think that a 17% increase in real wages for the average worker is a bad thing? Do you think lowering unemployment by 50% over 8 years would be undesireable? Would you be overjoyed to see these things repeated by anyone, or only if they were accomplished under a "liberal" administration? Are you ashamed that our actions under the Reagan administration contributed strongly to the destruction of the Berlin Wall freeing 20 odd countries and 50 million people from tyranny?
As far as starving goes, that is not America's health problems among the poor. It may have been in earlier days, but now we know our greatest epidemic is obesity. And that is mostly due to poor diet and lack of exercise, as Michelle Obama, the Obama with the good health plan, has stated time and again. Is it because healthful choices are too expensive? Go to a Sav a Lot inner city grocery store and look at the prices for carrots, potatoes, string beans, brocolli in the frozen section, chicken, etc, then check the price per pound for potato chips and ice cream. Then watch the checkout line and see what is in the basket of those paying with food stamps. At the end, observe the cash pulled out to pay for the cigarettes and the beer.
You'll quickly learn how accurate Michelle is concerning her claims.

LaRue Withers
8 years 1 month ago
Wow, Mr. Mattingly!  Quite an epistle.
First of all these are the starting salaries for teachers in a variety of "industrial" countries:

Australia                                                               $53,261

Canada                                                                 $33,387

Ireland                                                                  $37,671

Japan                                                                    $21,960

New Zealand                                                        $34,000

United Kingdom                                                     $27,535

United States                                                        $35,000

Yes, I researched it on line.  And yes, I converted yen and euro's into US dollars.  YOu are right about our students being behind in education, but I wonder if either you and/or I would check the number of students per class room what we would find.  One of the first things one learns when studying elementary education is that a class size, particularly for early elementary school is eleven students per teacher.  (Of course, one of the things one USED TO learn in taking business courses was that the most valuable asset in business is the employee - long ago abandoned.)  Do you know how many schools have been closed in the last few years and children carried to other schools?  Check it out - teachers are not necessarily carried with them, so that the class rooms are even larger.  In our area we have adults going to local schools to listen to children read - the teachers do not have time to do so. 

Maybe if both parents did not work, they would be able to help their children at home, but to expect teachers to have to plan lessons night after night, go to school early in the morning and then stay after school besides is ludicrous.  More than that most states require more education of their teachers during the summer months.   Now if you and your wife put all those hours in your work and still help your children, that is great for you, outstanding, in fact; but you have not for a second looked at the drain this puts on teachers and why more and more of them go into other lines of employment.

It may well be true that the Irish rose above the status they were allowed in the United States through parochial education, but you apparently live in an area where that is a possibility.  In very many small cities (e.g. JOhnstown, PA), rural areas (Aledo IL) there is not even enough money or priests to finance parochial schools.  In Aledo, for example, there is one priest for four small parishes in Mercer County IL.  There are certainly no "Parochial" schools there.  As for your statement of schools refusing "problem" children, I find that remark inane.  My brother-in-law attended eight years of parochial school in the years that almost every RC Church had one, and when he graduated from the eighth grade, he was not accepted at the Catholic High School.  HE COULD NOT READ.  The only words he could read were those he had memorized.  He did not have a clue how to break a new word down.  The fact that he was able to memorize so many words indicates that he was an intelligent young man.  It is misleading to state that only "problem children" are refused entry into these private schools.

Hungry children have a big problem learning.  That is only common sense.  As the article states even the amount of food that shelters and food pantries can provide is reduced, probably not so much because they are not getting as much to give, but that they have more people who are in need.  One of the answers to this problem would have been to extend unemployment to the "99'rs," - as much as people want to claim this country is based on Christian values, I am unable to see much of it when it comes to helping those in need.  Bring the jobs back to this country and we won't have such unemployment (BUT then the corporations would not make as much profit!! - that seems to be the bottom line; and these super-rich people really think that they are put upon.)  How much better are we than the British who refused to provide potatoes to the starving Irish, even though they had plenty to give?  You speak of WWII.  THere were potatoes rotting in bins in this country while people were starving all over the world after that war was over.

One other thing - I don't know where you live, and I no longer live there, but when I lost a job in Georgia I received unemployment for so many weeks and thereafter the amount went down.  Whether or not the person with whom you spoke is in a state that does the same thing, I don't know; but it seems to me there is something wrong with that picture.  Every state in which I have lived (and there have been many - being married to a military man) to collect unemployment, one must present a signed document from employers that shows they have applied for a job and have been refused employment, or there was none available.  They can't simply refuse a job because it does not pay enough.  There are things, though, that do keep people on disability and unemployment, but it isn't the money.  If a disabled person were to get even a part-time  job, they would lose all their health benefits and, of course, until the new health bill, what caused their disability would not be covered should they want a job.  THey are actually trapped (or have been) by the system, and if some politicians have their way, they will be trapped again.  I have actually known government workers who have told a person that if they are missing one "quarter" to be qualified for disability they should go back to work for that quarter.  You are absolutely right - there is a problem with education in this country.  But there is a greater problem in this country in a lack of humanity and empathy.

I'm afraid that people who are not living in these circumstances nor have had to face them don't really understand the plight of these people at all.  I still haven't found out how one gets a job that no longer exists.  It would be a good thing for all of them to volunteer at a food pantry or a soup kitchen or work at an employment agency for a while.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Mr Withers,
Thanks for reading my "epistle."
I can't duplicate your numbers among sources on the net. I did find starting salaries on the UNESCO site, which listed the US ahead of all the starting salaries for primary school teachers that you have listed, with Switzerland and Germanic countries at the top, the US at 5th, and Australia just below it.
All at far lower levels than the numbers you quote here. All of the countries you list, while paying less for new teachers, have students whose performance exceeds that of their US counterparts, most quite significantly.
Again, according to the NEA, the large union teachers' organization which would not be inclined to publicly exaggerated compensation figures, the average US public school teacher in the 2008-09 school year made $54,319. It is of course higher now. As best as I can determine, in Australia, which does compensate its teachers well, it is currently around $51K. But Australia gets something for its money; its students perform well. We don't.
According to the Manhattan Institute and US Bureau of Labor and Statistics,  teachers in the US on a per hour worked basis are paid 11% more than the average professional, more than civil engineers, architects, accountants, or computer programmers with similar degree, working an average of 36.5 hours per week when school is in session.
According to, the average public school class size in 1997 was 27; in 2007, 15.5.
What has the nation received in return for these great real increases in teacher compensation and educational expenditures and tremendous reduction in class sizes that have occurred over the last 35 or so years?  The US is atop the bottom quartile of OECD nations, and has earned the distinction of being the only OECD country in which 25-34 year olds are not better educated than 55-64 year olds. In the long haul, how can any corporation compete on an international basis, which competition can no longer be avoided, when other nations have better educated and with it, I maintain, better disciplined workforces?
Mr. Withers, the info on the worker I supplied was from a major publication. While it is necessary for the unemployed to document efforts to obtain a job, the employee can chose to ask or not ask the employer to fill out the necessary paperwork at the end of the interview, thereby documenting or not documenting the application. At my restaurant I saw this all the time. Many, perhaps 40%, the applications of those who had a good period of time remaining on their benefits were submitted half filled out from improperly attired applicants, whose only demand was I verify written documentatin that they had applied for a job and been turned down to submit to the agency. These same employees, when maybe only 2 weeks was left for them on unemployment compensation, would turn up again, now interested.
I totally sympathize with the absurdity you suggest of withdrawing all benefits from a disabled or other worker because he has managed to get a parttime or low paying job. It is the type of disincentive that is just irrational, discouraging the behaviour you are seeking. Such workers, who have jobs that are totally insufficient even for a poverty level of subsistence, should be receiving negative income tax monies. Just yesterday a friend working as an advocate for disabilities shared this with me. A longtime client, whose IQ was measured as 44, with some aid had obtained a job at a restaurant. With a supplementary check for his disability, he worked 20 years as a valued dishwasher and had obtained his own car, a home to live in, and a wife. Recently that restaurant closed for 6 months for remodeling. He therefore had to reapply, and somehow because he had established a record for being gainfully employed, he was disqualified for disability payments. Over the next several months, he lost his house, his car-and his wife.
We can do so much better than this for education by restoring competition to this bloated and self-interested bureaucracy, and for the needy, by gearing our efforts toward self-sufficiency, not the dole.

LaRue Withers
8 years ago
I will not dispute you on the salaries, because what I found was a few years old and may have changed.  They are close enough not to make it much of a point; however, you totally ignore the basics - it doesn't matter how much you pay a teacher if the classes are absolutely and totally too large to be effective for all students.  The bright ones will do well and those who have problems learning will probably end up as drop outs.   The unions do not seem to have the power that you infer.   Success of students is exponential with the number of students per teacher.  Should you succeed in getting vouchers and take all the students that want to attend certain schools (without discrimination) you will find the same problem occurring.

(By the way, it's Mrs. Withers.) 
C Walter Mattingly
8 years ago
Dear Mrs. Withers,
Thank you for the correction.
If is anywhere near correct, class sizes were reduced from 27 to 15.5 over the decade covering 1997-2007. That is a 40% reduction in class size, which produced no improvement in our international educational standing. In addition, salaries increased to a point where earnings per hour worked exceeds that of comparable professionals. Even when school is in session, teachers on average work 9% fewer hours than those professionals typically do. It is possible that if they were required to meet certain standards of progress as measured by student achievement, that might increase to 40 hours, or more efficient work.
In the experiment in DC, where vouchers had a brief 3 year run against the most terrible opposition from a union establishment fearing their entitlements would be subject to competition, the results of the vouchers have evinced clear improvements. In any case, what we know for certain is that reducing school size and increasing expenditures has done nothing to assuage the problem. Continuing along the same old proven failed path is simply nonsensical.
Above all, who do you think knows best about what school her child should attend, the mother who lives in the neighborhood, or a remote bureaucrat? And this is the real question I would like you to answer: should parents in a neighborhood whose school has had very poor results for a substantial period of time have the right to take a portion of their tax money to choose a school that they determine might be a better option than the execrable one their child is assigned to, an amount of money that will actually be less than it costs to send them to the assigned school, or not?
What would be the Christian thing to do, given those two options?
Michael Cremin
8 years ago
Mr. Mattingly wrote: It is ludicrous that we as a nation pay our teachers the top or next to the top salaries in the world, and that their performance as measured by student achievement is 18th of 24 among major industrial nations.

Our mean performance-that is, taken as a whole across the entire nation-puts at in 18th place. Break those numbers down my zip code and you will find public schools that rank in the top 1% of any school system on the planet. Here in Massachusetts where I live, we are sixth in the world on the international TIMMS test in math and science. Students in affluent suburban public school districts rank equal to or above students in any part of the world you can name. What's different about America is that we actually attempt to educate all of our children at the highest possible level: those who have learning disabilities, those who are poor, those who are learning to speak, read, and write English, etc. Other nations, simply put, do not. Our best public schools beat or match any public or private school anywhere in the world...and we aren't 'creaming' only the best and brightest as we do it.

So while there is certainly a lot of room for improvement in the American public education system, let's not forget that there are many, many areas of excellence, and that we try to help every child, not just those who are easy to educate.


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