248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By:  Dan Cohen – 7/8/14

          When President Obama was in Ann Arbor campaigning for a $10.10 minimum wage back in March, 2014, I was astonished by the passion U of M students displayed for the increase. This President can simply do no wrong in the minds of college students. It has gotten to the point where one U of M student proclaimed how she supported Mr. Obama because he filled out a bracket for March Madness and because he was “cool.” Wow, is she in for a rude awakening when she gets out into the real world. I am fit to be tied by the naivety of these young adults. Do they not understand that their summer jobs will be swallowed up by career short-order chefs and order takers at fast food restaurants?

          While Mr. Obama continues his minimum wage crusade, temporarily slowed by events in Iraq, here at home, Michigan became the eighth state to enact minimum wage legislation increasing the minimum wage. Under the new law, Michigan’s minimum wage will rise to $8.15 on September 1, then to $8.50 on January 1, 2016, and then to $8.90 on January 1, 2017, before reaching $9.25 on January 1, 2018. Starting January 1, 2019, the minimum wage will be adjusted based on the average annual percentage change in the Midwestern consumer price index over a five year period. The adjustment will be capped at 3.5%, and there will be no increase if the state unemployment rate is 8.5% or higher.

          By most accounts, neither the legislature nor Governor Snyder wanted an increase in minimum wage, but pushed the law through to kill the ongoing petition drive, which had gained momentum for an increase to $10.10. Clearly, the legislation was a “lesser of two evils” approach since we the people were about to jack the minimum wage up to $10.10 to “lift people out of poverty” simply because President Obama said so.

          More disturbing news that came to light about the same time in the story, “Michigan losing ground on other states in education, new analysis says.” According to this article, Michigan now ranks 49th among the states in 4th grade reading improvement and dead last in 4th grade math improvement since 2003. The middle schools are not having much more success, ranking 38th and 39th in 8th grade reading and math improvement over the same time period.

          Maybe before worrying so much about increasing the minimum wage, we should have stopped to think whether we can educate Michigan’s next generation of workers so employers might actually want to pay them more than the minimum wage. To me, it makes little sense to raise the minimum wage without fixing the educational system in our State. Perhaps Michigan should start looking for alternatives to its failing educational system. Governor Snyder would not have to look far for one option. Indiana Governor Mike Pence recently signed legislation making his the first state to withdraw from National Common Core education standards, which establish targets for proficiency in math and reading and purports to establish consistency and rigor in the nation’s education system. If Indiana, at 17th amongst states in educational ranking, can take such a step, maybe Michigan, with its 46th ranking, should start thinking about changes too.

          I harken back to my high school days and Roger Waters lyrics,

 We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought controlled

No dark sarcasm in the class room

Teachers leave those kids alone

          Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1980. I’m not really sure what Roger Waters meant with these lyrics. Was he saying, through the use of a double negative, that we really do need education? Or, was he quoting French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser, on how education is a form of government control of the population? I do know that Another Brick in the Wall was released during my senior year in high school, and was an anthem of sorts for all of us seniors who were preparing to go off to college and conquer the world. I did not ponder the lyrics or dissect their meaning back then.

          Now, 34 years later, I do both. But, I do so out of concern for our educational system and because my two teenagers are living in that system with my oldest heads off to college in another year. Although only time will tell whether raising the minimum wage will kill jobs, create an underclass of permanent fast-food handlers, result in reduced hours or strengthen our economy, I always thought that education was the key to prosperity and that education and technical skills would pull people out of poverty. Maybe that’s just me. But, I say it is about time we accept the fact that our education system is broken and start thinking about how to fix it. Otherwise, we are simply selling ourselves short. So, forget what Roger Walters said. We do need education. Teachers don’t leave those kids alone. It’s time to get serious about education.