Vocations, or How Smart People Get Poor

Jeans and a t-shirt is what she can afford.

Jeans and a t-shirt is what she can afford.

Stop being so damn surprised that the teachers in this country are not paid well.

The problem with teachers is that highly qualified people keep on doing it for next to nothing. So that’s what they’re paid: next to nothing. This is simple economics, which makes you wonder about the mindset of economics teachers, who surely know this.

Sure, keep on sending around those vigorous stories about the noble teachers who make a real difference, who work long hours, tolerate indignities, and pay for school supplies out of their meager paychecks. That kind of awareness is the root of social change.

But the issue isn’t that teachers aren’t worth more than they’re getting paid. We pay teachers as little as possible because we pay everybody as little as possible.

Companies are happy to serve the only people they answer to: Stockholders. (Read that sentence over again until you get that.) Lower salaries mean more money for the stockholders.

Individuals are happy to serve the only people they answer to: Themselves. Lower salaries for public servants means lower taxes which means more money for red wine and 85% organic chocolate, or whatever you do with your money.

Like it or not, because teachers are paid out of our common pockets, this is a social issue in a capitalistic society.

Unless parents and non-parents alike agree that it’s important to all of us that young people are better educated than we were, more money for teachers is not going to happen. A better education starts with more and better teachers. Higher pay attracts more and better candidates. The money behind this arrives via the IRS.

There are many sides to the argument. Some don’t want young people to be better educated because they might become a threat to their own job down the road. Some feel people shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford to raise and educate them completely without help. Some feel that society should provide fully fair and excellent education, health care, and basic quality-of-life services to everyone, because we are social beings who thrive or fail together. Some blame Obama. Or Bush. Or the other Bush. Or socialists. Or the super-rich. Or the poor. Or teachers. Or parents. Or kidsthesedays. Or the Kardashians.

You might have heard that you should do what you love and the money will follow. But here’s where we are: if you have a vocation — teacher, priest, artist, journalist — if you have a job that is your calling, then you have a job that will never pay very well. Don’t be surprised.