Longworth at Large

July 10, 2017

“Want a Raise? Become a CEO or Coach”

There was a headline in last week’s newspapers that caught my attention. It read, “Middle Class Wage Crisis Worse in North Carolina.” The story, written by Associated Press correspondent Emery Dalesio, highlighted findings by NC State University economist Michael Walden, in which he concluded that the collapse of middle class jobs in this century was worse in North Carolina than in the rest of the country. According to professor Walden, middle class jobs rose by 6% nationwide between 2001 and 2015, but fell by 5% here in the State. Communities that have lost textile jobs in large numbers accounted for much of our decline, and Winston-Salem was particularly singled out as having suffered from depressed wages.

Dalesio also referenced findings by UNC’s Maureen Berner, who added that the decline in middle class jobs and wages led to a “double digit growth in the need for food distributed by non profit organizations.” Her conclusion didn’t come as a surprise to me. Clyde Fitzgerald, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, had warned of this trend on many occasions over the past few years when appearing on my Triad Today television program. He spoke of the high rate of childhood hunger in the Triad, and of the challenges in keeping food bank shelves filled, and financial donations flowing.

What makes all of this bad news especially hard to swallow is that while many North Carolina families are still struggling to make ends meet, the wages of wealthy people continue to rise at an obscene rate. In fact, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and Senator Bernie Sanders have been railing against income inequality for years, even before the recession of 2008. So, just how bad is the disparity? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1982, the average CEO pay was 42 times greater than that of his average worker, but by 2012, the Institute for Policy Studies estimated that the ratio had reached 364 to 1. And while I will never defend greedy corporations who over pay their CEOs to the detriment of their employees, at least those executives work in the private sector. Not so with another elite group of “one percenters”.

If you really want to get steamed about stagnant wages, then just take a moment to examine what today’s college coaches earn each year. For example, Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzysewski makes $9.6 million dollars per year, and Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh is paid about the same. Alabama football coach Nick Saban earns over $7 million annually, while Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Louisville’s Rick Pitino take home around $6 million dollars each. But the pay rates and raises are also staggering for lesser known coaches in minor sports. According to a Washington Post story by Will Hobson from March of this year, the University of Virginia’s head Women’s volleyball coach has seen her pay increase from $94,000 to $221,000 over the past ten years. Meanwhile the salary of West Virginia University Men’s soccer coach rose from $66,000 to $188,000 per year, and Kentucky’s track and field coach went from earning $108,000 in 2006, to $429,000 last year. That’s a 298% pay raise! Not angry yet? Then consider that during that same period, the median pay for the average American worker rose by less than 1%.

The pay disparity at our nation’s colleges must also anger the men and women who have devoted their lives to providing academic instruction to students. According to the American Association of University Professors, the average salary of a full professor is $113,000 per year, while most instructors are lucky to be making half that amount. Even worse, their raises are few and far between, and when State legislators do approve a pay hike, it’s usually less than 5%. That’s a far cry from the coach who received a 298% pay raise.

So there you have it. Private sector CEOs make nearly 400 times the salary of the workers they haven’t yet laid off, while a growing number of college coaches earn anywhere from two times to 40 times more than the teachers who make it possible for those coaches to have a place to work. Pundits and politicians have suggested that higher taxes on the rich, and salary caps on coaches would make our lot in life easier. But the fact is, neither of those solutions would translate to more middle class jobs and higher wages for workers. That might only happen if President Trump makes good on one of his campaign promises: to incentivize companies who bring their factories and jobs back to America from overseas. Until then, those of us in the dwindling middle class can either make do with what we have, or else try and get hired as a CEO or college coach. Excuse me while I dust off my resume.

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