The next wave in the teachers strikes has hit Denver. It’s over the most basic issue possible: teacher pay. This is quite resonant in a city that has become unbelievably expensive very fast.
Katie McOwen has had to make some tough decisions when it comes to money.
At the end of this month, she’s giving up her one-bedroom apartment and will move into a friend’s basement. The move sacrifices some of her independence, but it affords her some wiggle room with her finances.
The sixth-grade math teacher at Place Bridge Academy in Denver said she makes about $50,000 per year. After paying $1,050 in rent, plus student loan payments, bills and other expenses, there’s not much left over. She also nannies during the summers to supplement income.
“I really am living paycheck to paycheck right now,” McOwen said. “If my car broke down or anything, I would be really hurting.”
McOwen is lucky that she doesn’t have to make car payments. She drives a 2000 Honda Accord, which just hit 310,000 miles. It works now, but she worries about the future.
“I know if something really happens, I will be in big, big trouble,” she said.
Why? Because she wouldn’t be able to go to work.
The 35-year-old is originally from West Virginia, the state that launched a teacher strike and inspired similar movements across the United States last year. Her mother and sisters, who also live in Denver, have talked about moving back east, or somewhere near there, to find a more affordable life.
“My option was to either move there or I’ve been contemplating moving into a camper van,” she said with a laugh. “I knew something was going to have to change. It was either to move completely out of Denver or to bunk with my friend.”
Teacher after teacher is dealing with these problems. There are more examples at the link above. In this case, more pay is about the community unionism that has been so critical for the success of this wave of teachers strikes. Would you like your child’s teacher to be sleeping, grading homework, and prepping for class? Or would you like to see your teacher working as Walmart at 8 pm on Wednesday? This is the fundamental question of this strike. Yes, unemployment numbers are low. But what does that really say about the economy? Most of live in a world of contingency and instability. Our cities are becoming incredibly expensive or our rural areas have an extremely sketchy economy. The classic middle-class life is very hard for us to maintain and sustain. The teachers’ need for decent wages is redolent of our own need for decent wages. Solidarity for the Denver teachers is solidarity for ourselves.