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.