October 06, 2011
Chrysler’s cost per unionized employee, reports The
Wall Street Journal, is $49 an hour, down 35.5 percent from 2007. Executives
at 20th Century Fox Television have demanded that voice actors for “The
Simpsons” take a 45 percent pay cut. (The performers’ counteroffer was a 30
percent whack, plus a portion of syndication and merchandising revenue.) Real
disposable income, computed by the U.S. Commerce Department, “decreased
0.3 percent in August, compared with a decrease of 0.2 percent in July.”
But as the Great Recession gives way to the Great Stagnation,
not everyone is taking a beating. The voluminous data compiled by federal statisticians
prove that life remains awfully sweet for those employed by towns, cities, and
Has your income kept pace with inflation the last few years? Yes,
if you’re on the payroll at the DMV or a government school. The U.S. Census Bureau hasn’t released
figures for 2011 yet, but in March 2010, real, average pay for full-time-equivalent
municipal staffers was $4,165. Three years earlier, it was $4,015. At the state
level, the story was no different -- $4,471 in March 2010, $4,345 in March 2007.
A useful comparison between the real world and the accountability-free
sector is “Employer
Costs for Employee Compensation,” an analysis published quarterly by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The
most recent report covers June 2011, and for all workers, it judged the public premium
to be a nauseating 43.6 percent. That’s largely unchanged from what it was in December
2007, the official start of the Great Recession -- back then, the state and
local advantage was 42.8 percent.
In every category, June’s hourly costs were higher for government
than private entities: wages/salaries ($26.41 vs. $19.81), insurance ($4.83 vs.
$2.27), retirement ($3.32 vs. $1.03), and paid leave ($3.03 vs. $1.90).
The BLS’s “National
Compensation Survey” examines earnings by region. As savvy observers would
assume, public-private hourly pay inequality is most pronounced in deep-blue areas.
Here are a few examples (most recent month studied by researchers in parentheses):
(July 2010): 48.4 percent
(October 2010): 43.6 percent
(June 2010): 40.7 percent
(February 2010): 36.5 percent
• New York City
(May 2010): 35.6 percent
(October 2010): 17.5 percent
Regions in redder, right-to-work states, where government is
kept in check by watchful voters, fare much better. Seventeen months ago, Salt Lake City’s public-sector
bonus was a mere 4.4 percent. But several places where fiscal sanity would seem
to rule need improvement. Nashville’s
bureaucrats, as of late 2009, prevailed by 16.8 percent. The comparable figure
for Dallas, in
March 2010, was 17.7 percent. In Sioux
City, the disparity was downright disturbing: 39.5
percent in August 2010.
Liberals frequently trot out the canard that many “public
servants” forswear lucrative gigs in private workplaces. If that’s so, why is compensation
for managers and professionals almost exactly
equal in the two sectors? (Government staffers retain the edge, of course, due
to lack of competition and enviable job security.) At the other end of the
skill spectrum, service employees savor a pay-and-benefits unfairness that’s
nothing short of obscene: 119.5 percent.
to the BLS, between December 2007 and August 2011, private, nonfarm jobs
fell by 5.6 percent. Layoffs in government weren’t nearly as numerous. State employment fell by 1.2 percent. For
municipalities, the reduction was 2.9 percent. Revenue gaps offered
bureaucracy-crazed, teacher-featherbedding PK-12 schools an opportunity to get
lean. Not surprisingly, they haven’t -- just 3.0 percent of educrats were let
go between December 2007 and August 2011.
Americans are aware of just how fortunate one is to land a government
sinecure. In August, Douglas E. Schoen, who polled for Bill Clinton, wrote
that a “wide-ranging national survey of 1,000 randomly selected, registered
voters,” as well as 10 state polls, revealed “that voters strongly favor
measures to pare the compensation of current and future public employees.” Sixty-four
percent would not agree to higher taxes -- and 51 percent were not willing to
cut social programs -- to maintain public pay and benefits. By 48 to 40
percent, respondents wanted a freeze in bureaucrats’ salaries.
Sorry, taxpayers, but it ain’t happening.
Analysts whose livelihoods depend on subsidies may disagree, but
the data show that nearly four years into a period of severe economic strife,
very little progress has been made toward right-sizing both the number of and tribute
showered upon employees of towns, cities, and states. The government-job gravy
train chugs along, oblivious to the hardships borne by the productive class.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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