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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oklahoma workers may be cheaper, but at least they're uneducated

by folkbum

It wasn't that long ago in real time--though ages ago in blog time--that Mercury Marine of Fond du Lac made waves (pun intended) by announcing its intention to screw hard-working Wisconsin folk and move hundreds of manufacturing jobs, followed by hundreds more white-collar jobs, to Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma, see, is a right-to-work state, a state that does not value workers and unions in the same way we traditionally have here in Wisconsin. The workers at the Stillwater facility were being paid so much less than the workers in Fond du Lac that it was almost worth the expense for Merc to bubble-wrap the plant and FedEx it southwest.

Now, I've got nothing specifically against Oklahoma. I have a lot of family there, including cousins educated by the Oklahoma public schools in one of the house-farmy suburbs of Oklahoma City who seem to have turned out all right and are making a living in the non-unionized trades down there. So it is with mild dismay--and not as much braggadocio as you might think--that I post this.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a survey of 1000 random Oklahoma high-school students, asking them ten questions from the US Immigration Citizenship exam. These are not hard questions--the answers were things like "George Washington" and "the Atlantic Ocean." Yet only 2.8% of OK students could get six or seven of the ten questions right. None of the students got eight, nine, or all ten right.

My wife was incredulous: "There's not one history nerd in Oklahoma who could get them all?" Apparently not among the 1000 surveyed.

I could not find a project of similar scale for Wisconsin, but I did find this story noting that six UW-Marathon County students averaged 90% right in an embarrassingly unscientific media story.

But there is, in fact, a moderate correlation between union membership and education spending, if you count education spending as a rough surrogate for educational achievement--or at least the importance a state ascribes to educating its children. There are advantages to being in states that value workers, both before and after they hit the workforce. And I'm proud to be in one.

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