The Death of the American Dream

The death of the American dream. That sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t completely dead. It’s just that the likelihood of the average American achieving the American dream, along with financial freedom, has been reduced to almost impossible. Why is this? We’ve had several years of recession, but we currently have a fairly strong economy. I’ll tell you why. People like Bill Gates and John Walton have killed the American dream.

Before becoming an educator, I spent almost 15 years in the retail industry. I began as a part-timer for Sears & Roebuck in the mid-80s. Back then, they hadn’t dropped the Roebuck, yet. During that era, full-time employees who worked for S&R were consider the UPPER, middle-class. Most departments were manned by commission salesmen, and it wasn’t unusual for a full-time commission salesperson to make in excess of $60k/yr. In modern dollars that is equivalent to around $200k. If you were lucky enough to be selected to go into management, they averaged your earnings for the previous three years, slapped a premium on top of it and made you an offer. This was the real deal. The same was true for JC Penney and Montgomery Ward. Year after year, these companies posted quality earnings for their investors.

In the late 80s, a new retailer began to creep into mostly rural markets and quickly started to gain a large percentage of the market share. Wal-Mart, the family own retailer from Arkansas, made its debut with discounted everyday low pricing in a big box format store. All three of the big retailers began to make adjustments in their strategies in order to keep their share of the market. They began to cut benefits. They began to reduce hours. They tried everything. Montgomery Wards couldn’t compete. They crashed. For twenty years, the two remaining retailers fought and fought for their share. It wasn’t until Target showed up that they realized they were going to have to change their business model to something similar to Wal-Mart in order to keep their share of the market. How was Wal-Mart’s business model different? When Wal-Mart first entered the scene, 90% of their workforce was part-time, minimum wage employees with no benefits. Their average full-time employee made less than $15k/yr. The average full-time S&R employee made just under $45k/yr. Still, to this day, Wal-Mart’s business model remains the same, and despite Sears and JC Penney changing to an almost identical plan, they are still losing ground.

I am sure that by now, you are asking how does this relate to education reform? Well, if you’ve done even a little research on Common Core, you know about the involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. I was doing some reading on another issue when I came across an article about Christy Walton, wife of John. She was addressing her son’s graduating class (private school) in 2011. She stated that the Walton Family had joined the education reform movement because the family business “was having trouble finding qualified people to fill entry-level positions.” (see here) Do you see the irony in that? I do. The company that pays minimum wage, offers no benefits and has a workforce of which almost 75% received some sort of government assistance wants employees that are capable of getting better jobs than what they are offering. Perhaps, if they offered employment with compensation that would allow someone with a family to actually eat a meal everyday, without government assistance, they would attract more qualified people. To me, I would much rather my family legacy be one that helped its employees stand on their own rather than one that makes billions of dollars by paying insufficient wages.

So, here we are 2011,  the same year that she said that, and ed reform is sweeping the nation. It is a full-on attack, nationwide, on the public school systems. Joined by the Gates Foundation and the National Chamber of Commerce, they launch their plan. Raise standards, drive technology,  kill the unions, fire the teachers, fail the schools, replace them with charters. We get our employees. You make money on the schools and you make money on the software. Bam! There you have it in a nutshell.

Back to the American dream. Well, obviously, those guys have achieved it, but what about the rest of us? Next week, in the Louisiana Legislature, they will be debating a bill that will make it illegal for public employees to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks. They call this the “paycheck protection” act. They don’t believe any employee should be forced to join a union, and they don’t believe that governmental agencies should collect the dues and forward to the union because unions LOBBY! Hello! Louisiana is a “right to work” state. No one can be forced to join a union. Every single teacher who joined the union, and had the dues payroll deducted, chose to do it. In addition, organizations like Blue Cross, United Way and many others are also payroll deducted, and they too, LOBBY.

One of the positive outcomes of having a unionized workforce, especially in trade labor, there are apprenticeships and training programs that have to be completed. New members to the organizations have mentors. While not perfect, it does improve greatly the percentage of skilled workers.

Now, I get the whole Republican view on unions. I can understand where a business owner, with a fair sized workforce could be concerned about remaining competitive. I GET IT! That is not what this bill is about. They can sell it any way they want, but it is intended to kill teacher unions so they can advance their agenda. Don’t believe me? Here is Lane Grigsby, one of the directors of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), also known as the Chamber of Commerce. He owns a very large construction company called Cajun Industries that does millions of dollars of business every year. Much of it with the State of Louisiana. He too, has joined the ed reform movement in the name of a “qualified workforce.” Listen to what he has to say.

In the last seven years, Grigsby has sunk nearly $5 million into education reform by influencing elections from the national level on down to the parish level. Call me crazy, but Grigsby could have had a qualified workforce if he had invested that $5 million in union wages.