Ever hear that our servants in the public sector are over-worked and underpaid? That if they’d merely compromise their principles they could make better money doing the same (or less) work in the private sector?
I recently saw this same claim in an engineering forum I frequent—which prompted some of the following research to see whether this remains true today. I had my suspicions that this claim has long since been proven false, as evidence of spiffy new equipment at the local Sheriff’s office or nice new buildings using expensive materials on army bases seemed to testify—whereas those in the private sector seem continually hesitant to purchase heavy equipment or add to employee payrolls. Keep in mind I’m not bashing those in public service—I’m simply calling attention to the widening chasm of earnings between the two worlds of public and private sectors.
Here is some of what I’ve found.
The theory holds, at least in the job classifications examined by the group. In the classification of “barber,” for example, the average private-sector salary was $27,580, compared to $65,967 for state barbers, a 139-percent difference.
Of course, the idea of holding a sharp object like scissors in the presence of hardened inmates might merit a little extra pay. But Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice-president for the Institute, pointed out that safety shears and other precautions could be used, allowing the state to contract with regular barbers–or even let well-behaved inmates do it, as is the case in the federal prison system.
Among other private-public comparisons from the list:
Truck drivers: $41,780 private, $73,564 public, a 76.1 percent difference;
Welders: $35,590 private, $61,833 public (73.7 percent);
Janitor: $25,510 private, $41,965 public (64.5 percent);
Cooks: $26,370 private, $42,349 public (60.6 percent).
So it looks like the public-vs-private pay gap for barbers in Illinois isn’t a mere fluke, but a general trend. Perhaps that’s a fluke peculiar to Illinois—a state not known to be free of corruption or wasteful spending?
When the police private details are factored in as part of the employee salaries, 343 municipal employees made $100,000 or more last year.
Among the top 250 wage earners on the list that includes paid details, 137 (55 percent) came from the Police Department, 73 (29 percent) from the School Department, and 25 (10 percent) from the Fire Department.
Only 15 (6 percent) of the non-school and non-public safety work force are included among the top 250 wage earners when the police paid details are factored in.
With the inclusion of paid details, 941 employees, or 14 percent of the work force, earned $80,000 or more last year.
Well, come on—police, education, and fire department jobs often don’t have much competition from the private sector. So these positions are admirable public service jobs—why wouldn’t they deserve a raise? Well, because, private-sector payrolls are shrinking at an alarming rate and such raises are paid by an increasingly-shrinking base of means by taxpayers.
Meanwhile, this newspaper recently reported that “paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year,” while government benefits rose to a record high. In fact, government employment is becoming a method of redistributing wealth. In 2009, the federal payroll grew and the number of federal jobs paying over $100,000 a year doubled.
Since the recession began, the private sector cut 8.5 million jobs (more than 7% of the workforce) while local governments cut 141,000 (less than 1%). Moreover, the average federal worker earns over 70% more than the average private sector worker, writes Arthur Brooks in his new book The Battle: “To find this acceptable, you must agree that the average federal worker is much more productive or deserving than the average person in the private sector.”
You might be inclined to say, “Seriously, Jeff, you cite a couple of articles that support your point of view—if I searched I could do the same to demonstrate the opposite.” Fair enough. Try it. I’m interested to see what you find. Go to Google News and type in something like “payroll public private” and see what comes up. That’s certainly not a biased search, is it?
But I’ve got more.
We’ve still got worsening unemployment to support these rising government payrolls. Whether implicitly or explicitly, this represents a tax increase (debt, inflation, or plain old taxes). From Maya Jackson Randall’s article at the Wall Street Journal, hundreds of large U.S. cities are facing higher unemployment today than a year ago:
Meanwhile, 300 metropolitan areas in April reported year-over-year decreases in nonfarm payroll employment. Eight regions were unchanged. While unemployment rate data is derived from household surveys, the nonfarm payroll data comes from payrolls.
The largest fall in nonfarm payroll employment was in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. region, followed by the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. region.
The largest increase in nonfarm payroll employment occurred in the Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va. region.
Whatever happened to all these “signs of improvement” that the economy is turning around? I don’t know—I see it reported all the time, but have yet to see any real evidence. By the way, did you see the last line in that last quote with the largest increase in payroll? Given what we’ve seen in recent years, is it really any surprise that payrolls are increasing in Washington, D.C.? Maybe those raises are our “signs of improvement”?
I decided to look into that a bit more as well. How do payrolls in Washington compare with those of other states? The statistics are staggering, as the graph from StateMaster.com indicate. Washington, D.C. tops the list and more than doubles the number two slot (Delaware) with an average of $136,714 to $64,609, respectively!
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that this is an unsustainable trend. Increasing the tax-supported salaries of the public sector with the shrinking resources of the private sector can only go so far. Keep in mind the government produces nothing—they can only redistribute what they take—they generate nothing of value to the economy. The more they take out of the hands of private citizens, the less there remains for the citizens themselves to enjoy of what they earn. This is why I consider government services—regardless of how well-meaning they might be—to be parasitic, and to be used sparingly.
I’m reminded of the words of French economist Frederic Bastiat. “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.”
I’m afraid our servants in Washington have forgotten who is servant and who is master—and there are but few to remind them otherwise.