Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The blame your neighbor game continues


Ralf Bronner

Our elected leaders call for public employees to sacrifice their supposedly lavish salaries and benefits. Letter writers echo this sentiment. The underlying premise, however, is factually inaccurate. Numbers showing that median public sector pay is higher than median private sector pay belie the actual composition of the two work forces.

A 2007 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey showed that approximately two-thirds of public sector jobs are professional or administrative, compared with 51 percent in the private sector. About 20 percent of private sector jobs are low-skilled or temporary, compared with only 2 percent in the public sector.

A 2010 study showed that 55 percent of California public employees have college degrees and 21 percent have graduate degrees, compared with 35 and 11 percent, respectively, in the private sector. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker further distorts the alleged disparity by including part-time employees — commonplace in business but rare in government — in his sector salary comparison.

In low-skill jobs, for which government has many fewer employees, government wages do exceed business wages. But for high-skill jobs, public-sector wages are significantly lower.

A recent Wisconsin study showed that, when human capital aspects are factored in, Wisconsin's public sector workers earn 8.2 percent less than business counterparts. Taking benefits into account shrinks the difference to 4.2 percent. Florida state Sen. JD Alexander's assertion that public employee benefits constitute a "free ride" is factually incorrect: government employees' higher benefits do not offset their lower wages.

California's government employees were generally unionized, whereas the business counterpart contains both union and nonunion workers. Thus public sector unions are not driving up wages as their critics charge; rather, if unionized business workers had been compared with unionized government workers, the public sector disadvantage would have been even greater. Rather than demonize public sector unions, we ought to ask what factors keep unions out of the private sect

Unfortunately there are no comparable Florida analyses, and neither an apparent interest nor obvious agency in Florida government to manage such data. Significantly, nobody has asked OPPAGA for such analyses. Why is fact-based reasoning so threatening?

Similarly, groups such as Florida TaxWatch and Florida's mainstream media don't seem interested, perhaps because workers lack the collective purse to commission studies by the former or advertising in the latter.

If we shrink public sector benefits, what does the future hold? One HR consulting firm showed that 68 percent of Fortune 500 firms offered ongoing pension plans in 1998, but only 42 percent did by 2008; 88 percent in 1991 offered retiree health coverage before Medicare eligibility applies (age 65), but only 33 percent did in 2008.

This foretells what it means to "run government like a business." Clearly the business model holds limited regard for the future health and welfare of America's workers. This trend also signals the importance of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which Florida's leaders simultaneously aim to dismantle.

My arguments will not influence Florida's current leaders. They have the answers they want and don't care to be confused with any more facts.

So I appeal to Florida's citizens to hold leaders accountable to everybody's interests and values. There is class warfare afoot — a new form that pits middle class business workers against their government counterparts.

Our economic circumstances were caused by business greed and carelessness —and poor policy decisions by political leaders — not by public employee largesse.

We must insist on reliable analysis about wages and benefits before inflicting this political vengeance. Educated professionals know their value: They will seek it by moving elsewhere, and Florida will be the poorer. Finally, we must stop the siren song that scapegoats the compensation of public employees as the primary culprit for poor economic circumstances.

Read more: Ralph Brower: Public employees are not the culprits | | Tallahassee Democrat

No comments:

Post a Comment