By Ruth Gadebusch
On April 9, women will have caught up with the pay that men made by Dec. 31. Despite all the efforts through the years to equalize pay for equal work women still lag behind, making only 82 cents to a man’s dollar. It is time to take a look at the state of economics in this nation of opportunity.
We see our infrastructure crumbling and refuse to consider proven solutions. Have we forgotten how we pulled out of the Great Depression of 1929–1930? We still benefit from projects—buildings, bridges, parks, etc.—undertaken to provide employment.
With an ever-widening gap between the pay scale of the haves and have-nots, Congress dallies over increasing the minimum wage. Likewise, there is no reining in of outrageous salaries in the higher echelons of business, even when they have bankrupted the business or survived by government bailout. Where is the justice, the fairness and concern for the good of the nation?
Arguably, education is the area where we are inflicting the most damage to the future of the nation. We have always had difficulty with the idea of prevention as more effective than remediation. Now when many consider a college degree as the equivalent of a high school diploma of an earlier era we are shortchanging our higher education system.
Fees have escalated to the point where the majority of students, particularly in the so-called middle class of society, graduate with heavy debt. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) notes that the average debt is $26,600 per graduate with a national total topping one trillion dollars, not counting credit card or family borrowing. Here, women are hit harder with the wage gap requiring a larger percentage of the salary for payback. The AAUW’s study tells us that women graduates of 2007–2008 with full-time jobs average $35,296, whereas men in the same circumstance are paid $42,918.
In California, higher education fees were increased after the closing date for payment several years ago. Current students are assessed a fee to compensate the system for the fine imposed by the court for this action. Stafford student loans, similar to an adjustable mortgage, await Congressional action to prevent a 6.8% rate starting in July, well above current market rates. Regardless of scholarships and other help, we can no longer lay claim to a free public education.
Using the rationale that legal and medical graduates can expect greater income, fees for those schools are out of sight. The prospect of a greater-than-average income hardly compensates for graduating with a horrendous debt. This hardly encourages graduates to go into public service, this in a time of a projected serious shortage of doctors and many unmet needs for competent legal representation of the poor. This is our future we are talking about. A free democratic society survives only with an educated, involved populace. Education is a long process, not a quickie. It will take many years to catch up with the need. This is too high a price to pay. The time to act is now.
Ruth Gadebusch is a community activist, a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.