Teachers nationwide are harnessing their collective bargaining power to make their demands heard. More on their advocacy in today’s special back-to-school edition of our Inequality.org newsletter.
Ten years ago, activists with the Occupy Student Debt Campaign organized a protest on the day student debt passed $1 trillion. Among their top demands: the cancellation of student debt. At the time, the media largely dismissed that proposal. Most experts, claimed one NPR report, see “little chance the government would ever forgive student loans.”

Fast forward to last week when President Biden announces that borrowers making less than $125,000 will have $10,000 of their student loan debt forgiven, $20,000 for borrowers with Pell Grants. Biden did campaign on a call for a bolder plan, but the cancellation of any amount of student loan debt should be cause for celebration — and a reminder just how powerful grassroots organizing can be.

Among those likely to benefit from this debt jubilee will be our nation’s educators. Average teachers now annually earn $61,730 and owe $58,700 in student loan debt. Our prolonged disinvestment in educators, coupled with Covid, has produced a mass exodus of overworked and underpaid teachers from our classrooms right as a new school year begins.

In response, teachers nationwide are harnessing their collective bargaining power to make their demands heard. More on their advocacy in today’s special back-to-school edition of our Inequality.org newsletter.

Chuck Collins and Rebekah Entralgo,
for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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The Documentarian Chronicling Our National Debt
Astra Taylor, a writer and documentary filmmaker, has been advocating against predatory debt practices for over a decade. An activist with Occupy Wall Street, Taylor and other debt abolition activists went on to write the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual and launch the Rolling Jubilee, a project that purchased — and then canceled — portfolios of people’s debt. Through crowdfunding, the project abolished medical, student, and payday loan debt worth over $32 million.

Taylor later co-founded the Debt Collective, a debtors union fighting to build a world that publicly funds college, makes health care universal, and guarantees housing for all. Now Taylor, in the same week President Biden announced his student debt cancellation, has joined with the Intercept to release her latest documentary, Freedom Dreams: Black Women and the Student Debt Crisis. Black women currently carry the nation’s heaviest student debt burden. Check below to learn more.
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Not a Pretty Sight: A Hedgie Picking on His Prodigy
On Wall Street, like everywhere else, “beauty” lies in the eyes of the beholder, and back in 2017 billionaire Daniel Och beheld plenty of money-making beauty in his 33-year-old protégé James Levin. Och that year named Levin the co-CIO of his asset management firm, Sculptor Capital, and deposited upon him a jaw-dropping $280-million pay deal. But relations between the two soured after Och picked a different exec to succeed him as his firm’s CEO. Levin eventually outlasted that new CEO and become the firm’s chief himself in 2020. Now Och has filed suit against his once-prized pupil, claiming the firm’s revenue “cannot possibly justify” the $145.8 million in compensation Levin collected last year. Och himself still has some justifying to do, particularly on the $400-million hedge-fund bonanza he pulled down in 2013. His firm has since shelled out hundreds of millions in fines and penalties for its role in a bribery scandal that surfaced the year after his own personal mega payday. 
Want More Teachers? Let’s Start Valuing Education
Students are returning to classrooms this week with America’s school districts facing a historic number of teaching vcancies. The National Education Association estimates that schools nationwide are missing some 300,000 teachers. Why so many vacancies? In 2021, the Economic Policy Institute reports, teachers earned a record 23.5 percent less than comparable college graduates.

That low pay and widespread burnout, adds an NEA survey, have a majority of teachers, particularly teachers of color, planning to leave the profession earlier than they anticipated.

In some states, lawmakers and school boards are bandaging the current crisis by shortening school schedules and shoving unqualified hires into classrooms. The simpler and far better solution: pay teachers more.

States could, for instance, follow New Mexico’s lead and codify livable salary floors for teachers, including guaranteed raises. In the meantime, educators and school workers are organizing for what they deserve. One recent contract victory in Columbus, Ohio can help point the way. Inequality.org’s Rebekah Entralgo and Bella DeVaan have more.
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Can an Intensely Unequal Nation Reverse Course?
Colombia’s newly elected progressive president has just proposed a wealth tax, on his first day in office no less. In Latin America, the world’s most unequal region, an egalitarian move like that would normally have a nation’s most privileged enraged and frothing. But Colombia’s rich are, by and large, showing little in the way of hysterics. Simply put, many of Colombia’s wealthiest just don’t feel their new president, Gustavo Petro, can deliver any real squeeze on their considerable personal net worths. Can he? Inequality.org’s Sam Pizzigati has more.
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What's on Inequality.org 

Rakeen Mabud, You Can’t Fix the Economy by Hurting People. We can have a strong job market and lower inflation — and we don’t need more painful interest rate hikes to do it.

Sarah Anderson and Brian Wakamo, Biden’s Debt Cancellation Plan Is a Step Forward on the Racial Wealth Divide. Black students have had to take out larger loans and face greater difficulty paying them back than other borrowers.

Chuck Collins and Helen Flannery, Weaponizing Charity to Advance a Political Agenda. Barre Seid’s record-breaking $1.6 billion donation to the Marble Freedom Trust boosts right-wing advocacy efforts. This kind of dark money giving allows multi-millionaires to buy influence and set the public agenda — avoiding taxes in the process.

Inequality.org team, Recommended Labor Day Reading, Viewing, and Listening. Inequality.org staff share their media suggestions for a holiday that honors the working class.

Elsewhere on the Web

Brian Wakamo, College football’s new era of greed, Seattle Times. College football is a sport loved by diehards around the country. But they’re putting their future at risk in the unrepentant pursuit of ever more riches.

Andrew Perez, Andy Kroll, and Justin Elliott, How a Secretive Billionaire Handed His Fortune to the Architect of the Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts, ProPublica. In the largest known political advocacy donation in U.S. history, industrialist Barre Seid has funded a new group that guided Trump’s Supreme Court picks and helped end federal abortion rights.

America Loves (And Hates) Its Billionaires, but Definitely Wants Them to Share the Wealth, GlobeNewswire. America’s perspective on billionaires is changing, new Harris Poll research finds.

Dave Davies, How the ultrawealthy devise ways to not pay their share of taxes, NPR. The Inflation Reduction Act’s new budget support for the IRS will make a significant dent on our massive deep-pocket tax evasion and avoidance.

Pat Garofalo, 3 Ways Congress Could End the State Subsidy Wars, Boondoggle. We need a national law that prohibits corporate CEOs from extracting subsidies from state and local governments. A roadmap for getting one.

Luke Hildyard, Capping CEO pay is the best way to make the UK more equal, inews. A pay cap would mean a fairer society and a pay rise for millions of people, says the executive director of the UK High Pay Centre.

Dylan Matthews, Effective altruism’s billionaires aren’t taxed enough. But they’re trying, Vox. An attempt to unsort the realities that confront the super rich trying to do the right thing.

Prabhat Patnaik, Why Indian billionaires and the Modi government get away by disregarding the poor, National Herald. A weak national trade union presence, a government that divides people along communal lines, and continuing affluent insensitivity toward the “lower castes” have ensured the triumph of arrogant greed.
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