Posted May 11, 2006:
“Women school teachers don’t need to be paid as
large a salary as men teachers because the men have families
to support, while women teachers are either single and don’t
require as large an income, or have husbands and thus their
income is a bonus.”
This is the explanation that we heard many times when we
were growing up in the 1950s when female teachers often earned
less than their male counterparts teaching the same grade
or subject. This argument was made by school board members
and citizens alike as they resisted the pressure to pay all
teachers according to a common scale: be they male or female,
high school or elementary.
While this sort of argument has died out in teacher salary
negotiations – we know of no US public school system
that pays male and female teachers according to a different
scale – but now, in a sense, the tables have been turned.
Farmers are routinely asked how much their school teacher
spouses earn. This amount then turns up in calculations made
to measure the economic viability of the farm sector.
The inclusion of “non–farm income in analyses
of farm programs” is one of the problems Timothy Wise,
Deputy Director, Global Development and Environment Institute,
Tufts University, points out in his paper “Understanding
the Farm Problem: Six Common Errors in Presenting Farm Statistics”.
Wise provides a table that shows that, for the 368,000 USDA,
low sales, full-time-family-farmers, farming income (including
government payments) provided $2,209 compared to off-farm
income of $47,226 for 2003, a relatively good year. With this
group government payments averaged $3,552 an amount greater
than farm income.
For farm households in the higher sales group ($100,000-$250,000),
farm income (including government payments) was $29,390 while
off-farm income was $31,195 per year. Government payments
for this group averaged $17,965.
Without government payments the low sales farms would have
lost $1,143 on their farming operation while the higher sales
farms would have earned only $11,423 from farming. Off-farm
earnings provided six more times income for these farm households
than government payments.
For the half-million farmers in these two groups, off-farm
earnings provided 82 percent of household income. Together
they constitute 77% of the households for whom farming is
a household livelihood strategy. When one adds in the commercial
farms with sales in excess of $250,000, off-farm income still
provides only 59 percent of household income.
Often one does not see these figures in articles that criticize
farm programs and farm program payments. Instead what one
reads is the fact that farm household income is 118 percent
of the average US household income. The conclusion in those
articles is often, “If farmers are earning above average
incomes, then why are we subsidizing them?” The authors
of these articles conveniently ignore the fact that this number
includes 1.4 million rural residence lifestyle farms, most
of whom do not list farming as their primary occupation.
It has always bothered us that off-farm income is included
when we talk about the adequacy of farm income. To our knowledge,
government or private enterprise analyses of no other sector
make use of data from relatives to calculate economic indicators.
Since commodity programs address an aggregate market problem
caused by small response to prices in both demand and supply,
farm programs are not designed to address household income
Maybe farmers should demand that the compensation of government
employees - from metro transit operators to agency heads -
be considered in light of their spouses’ salaries as
teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc.