Monday, July 11, 2011

The myth of the overpaid government worker

My favorite curmudgeon, good ol' BBC, left a comment on a recent post that I cannot allow to pass unaddressed. He invoked the Myth of the Overpaid Government Worker.

This myth is a favorite of the anti-government foamers. They love to invoke the image of some overpaid and underworked bureaucrat kicking back and enjoying the high life on the taxpayers' dime. So they practice deceptive statistics: they compare the average wage for a government employee with the average wage for workers in general. Because government -- especially the federal government -- does tend to have quite a few employees who have advanced degrees and work in professional positions (doctors, microbiologists, hydrologists, actual rocket scientists) wages will skew high compared to the general population. Remember -- the largest private employer in the US today is Walmart, and, the last time I looked, Walmart wasn't hiring many research scientists. It is, to trot out the usual cliche, an apples and oranges comparison.

If, on the other hand, you go by actual occupation and/or amount of education and training an employee has, government employees are consistently underpaid compared to their counterparts in the private sector. Right now, for example, the VA is looking for physicians -- the VA is always looking for physicians. Do you know why the VA has a chronic doctor shortage? Starting salary is $97,900. That might sound like a ton of money to those of us who are not doctors, but compared to what they can make in private practice? It's not competitive.

Or how about forester? According to USAJobs, the US Forest Service is hiring -- starting pay for a forester with a master's degree is $31,315. Somehow I have a hunch the foresters working for Weyerhauser and Georgia Pacific make more than $15 an hour.

The other part of the myth, of course, is that all those government workers are unnecessary. We'd all manage just fine without them.

So who do you want to fire first? National Park rangers? Local sheriff's deputies? Those overpaid doctors at the VA? Highway department workers? Forest Service firefighters? The staff at the state health department? Elementary school teachers? People complain now about the lines at Motor Vehicles or the wait times at Social Security offices -- how much longer are you going to have to wait if you fire the clerks?

There is another aspect to this whole "get rid of government workers" movement that most people don't think (or even know) about. Back in the '90s the Clinton administration made a concerted effort to shrink government. The number of direct employees dropped dramatically. It was, however, all smoke and mirrors. The direct employees went away, but the work still needed to get done, so it was turned over to contractors: Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Lear Siegler, and long, long list of others. The Large Nameless Agency where I work, for example, got rid of many of the direct employees who had been secretaries and administrative support clerks. They wound up replacing them with contract employees who get paid more per hour than a civil servant doing the same work would receive. No savings whatsoever, but it surely sounded good to be able to say they'd reduced the size of government.


  1. He invoked the Myth of the Overpaid Government Worker.

    I wasn't referring to doctors and such, but just common workers down the food chain from them. Civil Service employee's, one of my ex brother in laws was big on being in the Civil Service, the work was easy, the pay was good for the work and the benefits was good, and he got a good retirement out of it.

    It was better than being in the service and maybe getting shot at.

    Besides, what makes doctors so special? They just practice medicine, why should a doctor make over a 100 grand a year when you put as much in your education and only make 50 grand a year?

    It took a lot for me to be an expert mechanic, who bitched about how much it cost to get their rigs fixed? Doctors and such that made four times what I made.

    Fuck 'em.

  2. For the anti-government crowd, the fact that government employees get paid at all is horrifying. And how dare they make a halfway decent wage?

  3. Well, we could assume that I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, there is always that.

  4. Most government workers are underpaid, except Congress, SCOTUS, and that traitor to the progressives president of ours.

  5. BBC, according to the S.O. (he's a licensed airframe mechanic) the attitude toward mechanics and what they charge is even worse if there's an airplane involved. The guys who own the private planes bitch all the time about how much it costs to get an airplane repaired or inspected -- they tend to forget that if something goes wrong at 10,000 feet up, they can't just pull over to the side of the road and call AAA. I think it's elitism, pure and simple. There's a distinct strain of thought in US society that says if you get your hands dirty when you work, you don't deserve to make a decent living.

  6. I'm married to a government worker who puts in way more than 40 hours a week, has two degrees to do what he does and has to continue his education to keep his teaching certificate. He also buys a lot of the supplies for his job. For the time, money and education he puts into it, it's a bad investment. But he's a great teacher and I wouldn't want him doing anything else.

    I realize BBC wasn't referring to people like my husband, but when I hear people in the media or politicos making teachers the enemy, I seethe. It's utter bullshit.

  7. I know, let's do a big job swap ... take all the Wal-Mart and other Big Box workers, toss in the servers and counter people at all the fast food joints ... and have them do the 'easy' work done by government employees. Why, Utopia would be here within a few days because real workers (non-union of course) can get things done.

    As for government workers, as BBC, says, their work is easy and since they're not doing much but putting in time for their pensions, they’ll probably screw-up the burger and fries jobs and drive trucks into ditches. So it’s best we let them continue on their paid vacations and just keep an eye on them so they don’t hurt themselves.

  8. The reduction of all the "down the line" government employees is the reason it takes 2 plus years to even get an EEOC claim reviewed. In a meeting with the EEOC heads it was revieled that they many never even look at 80% of the complaints filed, much less investigate them.

    Locally it is taking 2 years to get a liquor license, Some businesses have closed before they could even open because of this.

    Maybe it is satisfying to complain about "down the line" workers not having hard jobs - but when nothing is getting done, companies can't do business or are doing business by cheating employees, and ignoring regulations then the whole system goes sideways.

    It is time for us all to take responsibility and pay our taxes and get this country back on track.


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