By Carol Schwobel

Schwobel is retired from Virginia Tech.

This is in response to the article in the Roanoke Times “General Assembly considering governor’s proposed pay raises” on Feb. 2. It states that the governor’s cabinet and government agency heads could get a raise this year of between 2.7% and 4.9% (an average of 3.8%). The legislative session gave government workers 2.75% plus an optional 2.25% merit pay to make a possible 5% last year (an average of 3.875%), and propose to give our teachers a raise (in year two of the biennial budget) of 3%. Initially this seems “fair,” as the raises are about the same, and the cabinet/agency heads did not get a raise last year whereas the teachers did. But it is not fair! A eighth-grade school math proficiency, a calculator, and access to the internet will show you that it is deeply unequal. Let’s get started.

First, the average teacher salary in Virginia is $57,372. The average cabinet/head salary is $173,990, more than three times higher. Now, I understand that some jobs require more training and education and are considered more important than others, and I know that the cabinet/heads do Very Important Work, but is it three times more important than teaching our youth? Let’s look at other differences. Teachers miraculously teach 24-35 immature, noisy, and sometimes disrespectful students with perhaps an aide, whereas cabinet/heads work with adults in quiet surroundings and they likely have staff to do their research and keep them organized. I presume these staff get government salaries as well (the mean is $52,401) which should be factored in. Additionally, Virginia ranks seventh in school quality but 32nd in teacher pay in the nation. But let’s look at the biggest inequity, the growing income inequality.

In the article cited above the two highest salaried cabinet members will get the full 4.9% raise. No merit pay here. As a past government worker myself, I can attest that most workers will get the “across the board” 2.75% raise and to get the full merit increase you have to do really extraordinary work. But never mind that. To be completely fair let’s say the average cabinet/head gets the average increase of 3.8%, the average government workers gets the average 3.875%, and the average teacher gets their increase of 3% each year for the next two years. That would make the cabinet/head’s salary $180,602 ($173,990 x 1.038), the government worker $54,432 ($52,401 x 1.03875), and teachers $59,093 ($57,372 x 1.03). That’s a spread of $126,170 from highest to lowest. Next year with the same raises the salaries would be $187,465, $56,541, and $60,866. That’s a spread of $130,924. If you see a trend here you aren’t alone. The income inequality is getting larger each year, even with the lowest salary (the government worker) getting a larger average increase (3.875%) verses the cabinet/head’s average increase (3.8%). Of course this isn’t close to fair as most government workers get the “across the board” raise of 2.75% and the two top cabinet members get the 4.9% raise which makes the spread more and the increase of income inequality greater. This is unfair on so many levels. The rich are indeed getting richer in Virginia and the poor really are getting poorer.

You can track income inequality with a nifty index called the GINI index. Income inequality is measured by 0-100%, the lower percentage is a lower inequality. Virginia appears to be complicit in the increasing U.S. GINI index. Relatively speaking, the U.S. has a high index and Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland have a lower index although their income per capita is similar. The U.S. is similar to countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia, and is higher than China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. You can find out why at Studies have found that the higher the GINI index is in a country the higher is violent crime and the more polarized is the political system.

In the U.S. the top 10% make nine times what the bottom 90% make with the top 1% making 39 times more than the bottom 90%.

I don’t care if you are conservative or liberal, this should make you angry.

In the calculations above it should be clear that a similar percent raise is not fair. We need to find a better way to raise salaries in Virginia. Perhaps we could start with a stable income gap similar to the ones we find in Nordic countries.

Come on, Virginia, we can do better than this!

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