Taxes are being raised. Draconian cuts in services are being made. Public employees are being fired. The tissue-thin national economic recovery is being undermined. And in many cases, the most vulnerable populations — the sick, the elderly, the young and the poor — are getting badly hurt.
What, you say, Obama isn't raising taxes, not even on the wealthy.
Not yet. And that is not the issue. Because the quote, the 2nd paragraph is Bob Herbert's column this morning, is about state governments, and local governments, and especially schools. Believe me, I know.
I am, after all, a school teacher. Our system is cutting over 200 teaching jobs. Those on 12 or 11th month contract are being furloughed for 10 days, those on 10 months (most teachers including me) for 5.
And that was announced BEFORE we found out that further cuts are forthcoming in the state funding for our districts.
But this is not about me, or other teachers. It is about children, about the sick and the elderly, about the least well off. And more.
Consider some of what Herbert cites:
Arizona is scrapping its children's health insurance program, leaving an additional 47,000 with no coverage, at the same time the Governor is calling for an increase in the sales tax, a regressive tax that falls most heavily on the kind of low-income families whose children will be affected most by the loss of that insurance
New Jersey is cutting $820 million in state funding for schools, with some wealthier districts losing all state aid, while poorer districts heavily dependent upon state aid absorbing huge cuts that will heavily impact their schools
State after state after state, even those like MA an CA which have already made massive cuts.
In the first two months of this year, state and local governments across the U.S. cut 45,000 jobs. Additional layoffs are expected as states move ahead with their budgets for fiscal 2011. Increasingly these budgets, instead of helping people, are hurting them, undermining the quality of their lives, depriving them of educational opportunities, preventing them from accessing desperately needed medical care, and so on.
Two months, 45,000 jobs, and that does not include the very serious cuts that are only now beginning and being threatened. Thousands of teachers in California are receiving layoff notices.
Thousands upon thousands more would already have been laid off had we not had the stimulus, but the money from ARRA that helped postpone that part of the fiscal crisis is now running out.
Health services. Education. After school programs. Juvenile justice. All being severely cut. Those cuts making things more than grim for the children currently most at risk.
Services being cut, precisely at a time when the need for those services is increasing. A double whammy. Falling most heavily on the most vulnerable.
There are no easy answers. Certainly not for states and local governments, who under state constitutions are usually required to balance their budgets.
Last year we avoided another Depression, thanks to the stimulus, ARRA. Yet we are not out of the woods.
The impact of our financial crisis is being shifted from the Federal government to states which lack the resources to respond - remember those balanced budget requirements. Increasingly states are devolving that burden down to counties and municipalities and local school districts, which are similarly bound by balanced budget requirements. We may not slip into a depression, but this means not only will the Recession linger, but the effects may become more severe, especially for those most in need, especially for the young.
Even absent the issue of health care, which MAY (it is not yet a done deal) be somewhat resolved by tomorrow, there are tools available to the Federal government that it is not using. Immediate reversal of the Bush tax cuts - both rounds of which were passed through the Senate by Reconciliation - at least those for the wealthiest (and thus most able to absorb additional taxes) is one of the few tools to generate revenue at the Federal level which can help offset the crisis faced at the lower levels.
I could describe the impact of what is happening on the middle class families who are teachers. Some will find themselves without classrooms and income. Others will see income cut through no fault of their own. Some who devoted many hundreds of hours to becoming National Board Certified Teachers will lose the additional stipend that had been promised them - I understand the financial necessity of some states doing that, but that will discourage other teachers from undertaking that arduous process, and the loss of improvement in the quality of instruction will be a further impact upon the real victims, the children.
The children. That has to remain my focus. Class sizes will go up. Field trips will disappear. Some classes will be eliminated - especially in art and music and other "soft" subjects, even though these are often the things that motivated struggling students to continue coming to school. In other places extracurricular activities, including but not limited to sports, will be eliminated, starting with junior varsity sports. Yes, cutting those activities further cuts income for some adults. It is also cuts opportunity for students to learn sports and theater and the like, to burn off energy. And in our economically worst off communities there will be no other options for many children - at the same time after school programs will be cut, and their families and communities already lack the resources to provide alternatives.
This week Secretary of Education Duncan presented the administration's Blue Print for education to the House and Senate. He met a great deal of skepticism, especially on some of his funding priorities. At a time when poverty and its impact may be increasing the administration wants communities to compete for funding for education, it wants to fund untried and tried and found unsuccessful approaches at the same time it either freezes or cuts other programs, some of which at a minimum provide economic stability for poorer schools. And remember, this is at the same time those schools will see their needs increase, and their state assistance cut.
I know the importance of health care. I see an increasing number of children missing school because they are sick, because families cannot afford in some cases even over the counter remedies, and certainly cannot afford to see a doctor when they lack the means to pay for the visit. We must address that.
I understand the reluctance of some to increase the federal deficit. I agree, so cut weapons systems that are redundant, and reinstate taxes on those who have gotten too much at the expense of the rest of us, thanks to the tax cut policies of Bush and his Republican allies. Do it if necessary through reconciliation, and hammer the Blue Dogs on fiscal responsibility, while reminding them about the people in their districts who are suffering disproportionally in this recession, already, before it gets even worse.
A Ruinous Meltdown - that is the title on Herbert's column as well as on this posting. It will be most ruinous on the young among the least well off among us. Continue it for several years and the impact will last a generation.
I fear for the downstream costs of how we are addressing the fiscal crisis. We know about downstream medical costs if we do not cover basic health needs. We should know about the downstream costs of health and productivity if we do not cover the nutritional needs of people. And if we have any doubt, each time we cut another program in schools we greatly magnify future costs in criminal justice and other impacts upon our society.
I fear for the future of this nation. I have that fear, because I am already seeing the impact upon the children who pass through the school in which I teach.
The social contract that binds us together is at risk if some can continue to profit heavily while others are abandoned by society. That will be the real ruin.
Sobering thoughts for a Saturday morning, a morning on which I go to teach in the kind of enrichment program that will not be possible next year. I may lose some additional income, but that is minor. The students I teach will lose that additional support, which for some is critical.
And the program to which I go is minor in its impact, far less important than many of the things that are being cut.
Herbert ends his piece like this:
All states have been rocked by the Great Recession. And most have tried to cope with a reasonable mix of budget cuts and tax increases, or other revenue-raising measures. Those that rely too heavily on cuts are making guaranteed investments in human misery.
human misery - what we have seen so far does not even begin to approach the level of misery some will experience.
Each child is an adventure into a better life - an opportunity to change the old pattern and make it new. That is a hopeful statement by Hubert Humphrey which speaks loudly about why people like me dedicate our lives to young people, as teachers, social workers, coaches, and the like.
Here is another Humphrey quote, one which I have offered before:
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
By that moral test, all of our governments are about to be found badly wanting if we do not address this Ruinous Meltdown before it destroys the hope and future for a generation of young people.
I wish I could be more cheerful. I cannot. I worry for the future of my country, because I worry for the future of too many of our young people.
What about you?