Thursday, February 24, 2011

More on the budget

I have been hearing a lot about how overpaid federal workers are when compared to their private sector counterparts so I thought I would google "federal salaries" to see if I could garner some type of breakdown of workers and their salaries. Found that, as usual, the returned discussion of federal employee salaries leaned heavily one way (overpaid) or the other (underpaid) depending on its source. Analysis from groups like the Cato Institute claimed federal workers are making 50% more when including benefits and compensation, while analysis from sources more friendly to workers in general, and govt workers in particular, claimed a negligible difference.

Facts that seem undeniable

- The federal work force is a bit over 2 million strong. That number is about the same as it was when Ronald Reagan was president. In fact, from what I could gather about actual federal workers, only President Clinton reduced the federal work force. Conversely, President Bush II, dramatically increased the federal work force after 9/11, most specifically in the creation of the new Homeland Security department which includes the actual personnel of that department as well as a huge number of civilian contractors. So, there are less federal workers per citizen today than there was 30 years ago.

- The federal work force is composed of a higher percentage of white collar positions held by higher educated staff. It appears that thousands of blue collar jobs have been privatized in the past decade leaving the work force overbalanced with what would normally constitute higher grade, higher pay employees. One could still argue that these individuals may be overpaid, but it might be fairer to compare them to similarly populated industries as opposed to the general work force in its entirety.

- There are about 100 million employees in the public sector. The loss of manufacturing jobs in the past 20 years along with the growth of the service industry means that there is a higher percentage of blue collar (which usually equates to lower compensation packages) jobs than before and a much higher percentage when compared to the federal work force as noted above.

- In general, it appears that high-skilled workers in government are slightly underpaid, lower-skilled workers are slightly overpaid relative to the private sector.

- Benefits accorded federal workers are clearly superior to those in the private sector, less so if you compare them to private sector employees earning $80000 a year or more, but clearly better than the average private industry worker many of whom have no benefits whatsoever.

- Federal workers at the top of the wage scale make less than their private-sector counterparts, while the reverse is true for those with entry-level jobs. An easy example would be the president himself and his cabinet when compared to the CEO and other top executives at any large corporation.

What seems lacking in almost every discussion and article I read is an understanding of why public sector pay has stagnated over the last 30 years. So many people seem eager to blame the overpaid federal workers but no one seems interested in examining why private industry has done little to improve the compensation of its employees yet at the same time, has lavished huge salaries, bonuses and golden parachutes on those at the top. Hmmm.

Another interesting tidbit I found was that congressional staff pay has increased faster than inflation in the recent past. In other words, the very same people who want to eliminate federal workers and reduce their pay have been very generous with our tax dollars to those that work for them.

All in all, it appears that the savings which will be netted from freezing federal workers pay will be about $1 billion a year. In the face of a $1 trillion deficit, we need to find 999 more of these type of savings. Again, we are playing around at the edges here.

Finally, why is it the federal workers, state workers and lately union workers that are being targetted by (mostly) Republican congressman, senators and governors. Freezing their wages, eliminating their jobs, questioning their work ethic is OK, but when someone asks for a few percentage points in extra taxes from the super rich or (gasp), a salary cap on compensation at the top of the wage scale, then that is called socialism.

To me, the average worker in this country should be outraged that fellow middle class workers are being blamed for the deficit. If these savings actually net that $1 billion amount, that means these overpaid workers account for 1/10 of 1% of the budget deficit yet that is the focus of all the talk. Why aren't we talking about the other 99.9% of the problem???

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