"Fat Cat" Public Employees? Hardly

Conservative political and media rhetoric aimed at "fat cat" public employees scapegoats middle-class workers for the economic crisis and threatens to undermine public welfare at all levels, write Max Fraad Wolff and Richard D. Wolff.

With the economy continuing to worsen and state and municipal budgets nearing the breaking point, some pundits and politicians on the right are trying to deflect attention from the roots of the crisis and towards the public sector, with the aim of implementing sweeping cuts. But according to professors Max Wolff and Richard Wolff, this campaign is not only incorrect in its assertions, but cutting public spending will be ultimately detrimental to the economy, our infrastructure and to society:

"State and local employees provide vital services to all. Our education, transport, protection, courts and civic participation rely on public-sector workers. Over 85 percent of Americans are educated in public institutions, from first grade through university. Our police, fire, courts, social workers and clerks keep all of us and our property secure. Our roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, trains, buses and security are public-sector work. Our diversity and our veterans are well represented among our public-sector workers. Cutting the public sector will worsen the economic crisis while deepening many social problems."

Full Story: Public sector squeeze



Michael Rodriguez's picture

Author's aren't factually right.

Ok, I'm a Democrat and all, but I also work in the private sector in DC and can see the difference. My favorite is when I meet 55-year-olds on nearly full pensions, and then still working in the private sector. We're not talking about retired Army here - we're talking about retired Department of Transportation, or Department of Agriculture, or whatever.

First, the facts aren't right. The author's do some dubious math such as comparing public-sector wages vs "All Americans" (which includes the public sector employees too). Disregard what he's said in this article.

The authors fail to look at total compensation. The fact is that total compensation (wages, salary, AND benefits) are (from the BLS):

State and Local Public Sector employees: $40.10 per hour
Private sector employees: $27.88 per hour

State and Local Public Sector employees: $26.25 per hour
Private sector employees: $19.68 per hour

State and Local Public Sector employees: $13.85 per hour
Private sector employees: $8.20 per hour

State and Local Public Sector employees: $3.26 per hour
Private sector employees: $0.99 per hour

Look at the facts yourself by comparing these two tables from the BLS, which are the correct data to be looking at for this analysis:


I love my public sector counterparts too. But I think the kicker is really in these long-term benefits and retirement packages.

I'll cede that the "management and professional" employees in the private sector make more, and those are the people that I and most people I'm around tend to associate with by virtue of profession. But think of all the other employees out there, and the numbers add up.

I'm all for public-sector employees making the same as private-sector employees, but that should be in compensation AND benefits. They should make as much compensation as I do; but shouldn't be getting these golden defined benefits plans and ridiculous pension systems. It's the benefits and long-term costs that are the real problem to budgets.

apples to apples?

Are you comparing public sector employees to private sector employees with similar educations and training? Or are you averaging in the folks working at Wal-Mart and Burger King? I worked in the public sector (two local level jobs the a state level job) and left for the private sector. The cost of my health benefits went up every year I was at my state job, our pay was frozen for 3 out of 5 years due to "budget concerns" (this was 7 years ago) and layoffs were routine. To top it off I was taking home 20-25% less than my private sector peers. If there's no job security and stagnant to declining wages why would anyone with any talent work in the public sector? Maybe not that big of a deal for planners but when cops, building inspectors, health inspectors, etc see declining wages it's when you see shady characters taking those jobs because of the opportunities to make money "on the side". There's a reason we decided, as a society, that it's a good idea to a have a professional and well compensated civil service. It's like this guy I heard complaining that a 10 year city bus driver was making $18 an hour. I said "How much do you think a driver with a CDL makes? He could walk off this bus and have a job tomorrow making $5 more an hour and get some peace and quiet to go along with it. What kind of DUI garbage are you gonna have driving this bus for $12/hr? That's not a bus I want to get on." For all this talk of class warfare (when it comes to taxes) it's interesting how those in slightly higher tax brackets, instead of demanding better benefits in their workplace, are more comfortable to see them stripped from people who are already making less than them.

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