Public sector employees doing well

Below, Steven M. Greenhut tells how — despite a poor economy — public sector employees are doing quite well. I don’t think the problem is quite as bad here as it is in Greenhut’s home state of California. But just this week the Wichita City Council voted, in spite of a tight budget that has produced layoffs and outsourcing of city employees, a one-time payment of two percent of their annual salary to Wichita municipal court judges. This was made in lieu of merit pay.

Greenhut’s recent book is Plunder!: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation. I’m looking forward to reading it.

The economy is struggling, the unemployment rate is high, and many Americans are struggling to pay the bills. But one class of Americans is doing quite well: government workers. Their pay levels are soaring, they enjoy unmatched benefits, and they remain largely immune from layoffs, except for some overly publicized cutbacks around the margins.

As I document in my new book, Plunder!, government employees of all stripes have manipulated the system to spike their pensions. The old deal seemed fair: public employees would earn lower salaries than Americans working in the private sector, but would receive a somewhat better retirement and more days off. Now, public employees get higher average pay, far higher benefits, and many more days off and other fringe benefits. They have also obtained greatly reduced work schedules, thus limiting public services even as pay and benefits shoot ever higher. The new deal is starting to raise eyebrows, thanks to efforts by groups such as the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, which publishes the $100,000 Club, a list of thousands of California government retirees with six-figure, taxpayer-guaranteed incomes.

The story doesn’t end with the imbalance in pay and benefits. Government workers also enjoy absurd protections. The Los Angeles Times published a recent series about the city’s public school district, which doesn’t even try to fire incompetent teachers and is seldom able to get rid of those credibly accused of misconduct or abuse.
The real scandal is a two-tier society where government workers enjoy benefits far in excess of those for whom they supposedly work. It’s past time to start cleaning up the mess by reforming retirement systems and limiting the public unions’ power.

Steven M. Greenhut is director of the Investigative Journalism Center and News Bureau at the Pacific Research Institute. He is also a Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow.

2 Comments

  • The only people who are benefitting from this recession are those in government. It seems absurd they are supposedly working for the citizens of the U.S. and they seem to be able to do whatever is good for them, without answering to anyone.

    Who makes the rules about pay, benefits, vacations? I am assuming it is a higher level of government who then receives a little more pay, benefits, and vacation than the people who work under them so they can also ride the gravy train. The only way to keep ahead of the game is to join the govenment workers and to heck with the citizens trying to cope with the games they play in all phases of the government.

  • Many of the local elected officials are poorly educated, but elected office is a place where these types of people are able to make a great salary without being educated or having any experience. Councilperson Sue Schlapp and our Mayor Carl Brewer are making more money than they would in the private sector with their high school education. In addition, the City of Wichita passed recently huge pay increases for their upper management when they revised their pay matrix.

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