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  • Ready, Disclaim, Fire

    Written on January 31, 2011

    Earlier today, newly-elected Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released his "Citizens’ Guide to Michigan’s Economic Health." The general purpose was to provide an easy-to-understand presentation of the state’s finances, and to encourage local governments to do the same. These are of course laudable goals, but one of the report’s major findings, also mentioned in the governor’s press release, was a familiar one:

    Average annual compensation of state employees (including salary, wages, and benefits) was over twice the average annual compensation of private sector workers in 2009.
    As might be expected, many reporters and editors dutifully ran this outrage-inspiring finding as a headline (also here and here), even before the report was officially released: State workers make twice as much as private sector workers. Governor Snyder rolled out the report as part of his presentation to the Business Leaders for Michigan Summit, in which he spoke about the state’s fiscal situation.

    I’ve already discussed how these gross comparisons of public and private sector workers – whether nationally or in a single state – are invalid. That is, they compare two completely different groups of workers: Public employees, who are mostly professionals, and private sector workers, many of whom work in lower-wage, lower-skill jobs. But this time, you don’t need to take my word for it. After featuring the “twice as much” finding in a header and pull-out quote, the governor’s report says it directly:

    However, this analysis does not compare private and public sector employees with similar jobs, years of experience, or education.
    Let me translate that for you. It means: This comparison is meaningless.
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  • Meet The Bureaucrats

    Written on January 23, 2011

    You needn’t look far to see that state public employees are under intense scrutiny. Politicians and other commentators are using rhetoric that is simplistic and often misleading. But, in the debate over their relative value, these state workers have an additional problem: I get the strong feeling that most Americans have little idea what they do.

    If you ask the average person to describe what a public employee does, you might hear the word “bureaucrat." Those who wish to dismantle large chunks of the public sector have come to use the term as the pejorative for all public servants (most often in the federal government context) - probably in the hope that it will conjure up images of large government buildings filled with endless rows of faceless, overpaid desk workers collating papers.

    So, who are these state public employees? What are they actually doing? These are very basic questions, yet they are rarely addressed in detail, at least not lately. And, let’s be honest – in one way or another, our tax dollars do pay for these workers’ services, and regardless of your views on state budget troubles, it’s always good to know what you’re paying for. Luckily, of course, the question is easily answered. In the simple table below, using 2009 data from the Occupational Employment Statistics program of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, I present the breakdown of state government workers by occupational category (note: these categories are comprised of varying numbers of similar detailed occupations, and while my examples in the table are the largest, they are not the only ones in each category).

    In order to summarize this table, let’s suppose you’re invited to a party to meet ten people, who are a roughly representative sample of the 4.5 million state employees across the nation. Let’s meet the bureaucrats!

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  • Lazy Librarians And Other Privatizing Tales

    Written on September 28, 2010

    Where’s Laura Bush when we need her? While the country’s most renowned ex-librarian is enjoying retirement in Texas, there’s a company abroad in the land quietly privatizing public libraries and trashing librarians while they’re at it.

    In a recent New York Times article, we learned that public libraries, a sacred, respected public institution if ever there was one, have joined police and social service agencies in the outsourcing gunsights. The article cites Santa Clarita, California, where city officials have voted to turn their financially healthy public library over to Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI). LSSI is a national library outsourcing firm, which is now the fifth largest library system in the country, having privatized public library systems in California, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.

    Why privatize a healthy system? Well, in the article, the Santa Clarita political leaders say it’s to "ensure the libraries’ long-term survival in a state with increasingly shaky finances." And how will LSSI do that? Frank J. Pezzanite, LSSI CEO has "pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees."

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  • Public Apples, Private Oranges: A More Ripened Look

    Written on September 10, 2010

    So, how does the public/private wage gap look when we compare professionals in the two sectors by both occupation and experience/responsibilities?

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  • Public Apples, Private Oranges

    Written on August 12, 2010

    Hardly a week goes by during which an editorial or column in a major newspaper doesn’t comment on how public sector workers are making a killing compared with their private sector counterparts. Recently, as a result of the "edujobs bill," there has been even more of this chatter than usual about “overpaid” government workers with “bloated benefits” and “fireproof” positions. Some of these commentaries even purport to present “evidence."

    Earlier this week, for instance, a piece in the Washington Examiner cited data showing that average compensation (salary plus benefits) for federal government workers was roughly twice that of private sector workers. Sound remarkable? Not so much.

    This “argument” is akin to comparing the compensation of employees at IBM versus WalMart. You are talking about two very different groups of jobs.

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  • "Outsource Everybody?"

    Written on July 22, 2010

    The New York Times apparently thinks that outsourcing all city services in times of financial stress is such a great innovation that it merits page one treatment. The case in point: Maywood, Calif., where city officials last month fired every city employee and outsourced their work. According to the Times, many Maywood residents seem delighted, hence the headline: "A City Outsources Everything. Sky Doesn’t Fall."

    The article describes Maywood as city that was abysmally managed for so long - its police department was especially singled out as a source of financial, legal, and political problems - that city officials claimed it faced bankruptcy unless drastic measures were taken. After reading the article, the first solution that came to my mind was to fire the city council that was responsible for the mess. But, of course, council members did not choose to fire themselves. Instead, after Maywood lost its liability insurance on June 30, city officials abruptly fired all city employees.

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