Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Opelousas: The Long Reach of Racism: Pensions

A pretty house on South Street, Opelousas, Louisiana.

I went looking for a historic spot in Opelousas awhile back, and I couldn't find it, even though I had an exact street address from the biography of Cat Doucet (doo'-say), a long-time sheriff of St. Landry Parish (often referenced by James Lee Burke in his Dave Robicheaux series). 

I pulled into the parking lot of a business that, in theory, would be next door to said historic spot. I went inside, greeted the man and woman I saw within, and said, "Uh, I've got a crazy question to ask you." And I told them about the Doucet biography, the name of the illustrious owner of the business site I sought, and the exact address as per the book. Whereupon the woman explained that it was likely that street numbering had changed between the time of the book's publication and now, and she didn't know the location of the historic site.

But we started talking, and the business woman - a Creole woman in her 70s, perhaps - told me some of her story. To avoid having to refer to the business woman only as "she" and "her," I'll call her Ms. Theresa.

When Ms. Theresa was a child in Opelousas, people of color could only enter a store by way of a back or side door, not the front door. Ms. Theresa and some of her friends refused to subject themselves to this. They had a fair-complected friend of Creole heritage; Ms. Theresa's friend could enter such stores through the front door, so Ms. Theresa and her other friends gave her money to go in and buy their desired items.

Ms. Theresa attended college and obtained a teaching degree. When it came time to seek a teaching position in St. Landry Parish, she discovered she was expected to give money to certain official(s) in order to get a teaching job. This she refused to do, so she moved to another part of Louisiana to teach for a number of years. For a time in Louisiana, she taught at an integrated school, where she encountered the daily situation in which her white students were encouraged by their parents not to pay the respect to her they paid to her white colleagues at the school, such as standing up for her when she entered the classroom, as did students in that era.

Eventually, Ms. Theresa made her way to Georgia to teach, where her salary was significantly higher than in Louisiana. This is where she spent most of her teaching career.

After retirement, Ms. Theresa decided to return to Opelousas, where she'd grown up. An observation she made: Her retirement pension exceeded, by far, that of her contemporaries who'd remained in Louisiana. My impression from Ms. Theresa was that this difference had a direct impact on their respective economic quality of lives today.

Which brings me to the title of my post: The Long Reach of Racism.

Ms. Theresa's observation made me wonder: Did retirement institutions in the US, particularly in the South, adjust their pension calculations to address earlier years of discriminatory wages? To date, I haven't been able to find any answers to this.

If retirement institutions have not made such an adjustment, then there are hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions? - of black retirees who receive a lower pension than their white counterparts, based on past systemic discrimination in:
  • Wages;
  • Promotional opportunities (and therefore, higher income); and 
  • Professional development, e.g. tuition reimbursement (and therefore, higher income).

Most pension plans include these variables in their pension calculations:
  • Years of service;
  • Average payment for a certain number of years; and 
  • Some sort of percentage multiplier. 

The Louisiana teacher retirement pension plan appears to be an example of this.

Let's say I'm a 70 year-old woman of color who taught in the Louisiana public schools, now retired, but who taught between the ages of 25 and 60. I:
  • Was born in 1946
  • Began teaching in 1971
  • Retired in 2006

And let's say I began my teaching career at the same time as a white counterpart, "Ms. Marie." When we began teaching in 1971, she received $10,250 per year, and I received $10,000. ... a $250 annual wage disparity.

Every 10 years, we received a 10% increase in salary. Therefore, in: 
  • 1981: Ms. Marie earned $11,275; I earned $11,000 --> $275 disparity
  • 1991: Ms. Marie earned $12,403; I earned $12,100 --> $303 disparity
  • 2001: Ms. Marie earned $13643; I earned $13,310 --> $333 disparity

If I use the Louisiana retirement plan calculation, my understanding is that I'd: Multiply years of service x average of final three years of compensation x 2% or 2.5%.

Assuming 2%, I calculate our pensions as follows:
  • Ms. Marie: 35 years x $13,643 ($477,505 lifetime earnings) x 2% = $9550 pension per year
  • Me: 35 years x $13,310 ($465,850 lifetime earnings) x 2% = $9317 pension per year

My retirement pension is $233 less per year than Ms. Marie's, or $19 per month.


Teacher Salaries in Black and White: Pay Discrimination in the Southern Classroom (1890-1954)

From Encyclopedia of Louisiana, Jim Crow's Demise, article by Nikki Brown:
"In 1965, only five Louisiana parishes submitted plans for integration. By 1967, thirty parishes still had made no arrangements to desegregate. In 1970, forty-five parishes were ordered to come up with a legitimate plan or risk the loss of federal funding; full integration of Louisiana’s public schools did not come until the mid-1970s. Similarly, Louisiana was ordered—on at least ten occasions between 1965 and 1998—to integrated segregated universities and professional schools or compensate the state’s historically black colleges and universities for generations of neglect."

Related post

Opelousas: Death in Black and White

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