Friday, November 4, 2011

5 Hard Facts About Public Employees

Great article here from "Off the Charts" website debunking common myths about public employees (i.e., the jobs not yet privatized):

Five Things You Might Not Know About Public Employees

Quick summary:
1)  Most government employees are schoolteachers or school staff
2)  Apart from public schools, the proportion of the workforce employed by the government has been shrinking for the last 30 years
3) & 4) Government employees generally earn less than their private-sector counterparts, even accounting for benefits
5) Labor costs make up 44% of state and local spending


  1. Interesting article... thanks for posting the link to it.

    The article is interesting mainly because of what it infers, without really coming out and taking a stance. It poses the government as altruistic, caring, and efficient, mainly because most of them are schoolteachers or "school staff" (conjuring up images of smiling cafeteria workers and teacher's aides).

    The truth is that state spending on education employees typically includes huge, inefficient bureaucracies within the school districts. Many states have far too many school districts. In the tiny state of Delaware, for example, there are well over 500 state employees in the education system who do not teach, and do not work for the state DOE, and who make over $100,000 per year. I suspect that any private company (or efficiently run government) would reduce that number by at least two thirds, in part by consolidating the number of school districts.

    Arizona voters are in favor of reducing the number of school districts there. Of course, the unions are strongly opposed.

    So, I am suspect of any article on the supposed efficiency of public school systems, but ignores the top heavy bureaucratic structures in many of our public school systems.

    More importantly, the stranglehold that teacher's unions have on taxpayers and on the minds of America's children is chilling. They can go on strike and force the state or school district to pay almost anything they demand. When it comes time to pay for it, the school district simply cuts band, sports and other programs until the parents vote in a new tax increase.

    Meanwhile, the teacher's unions continually promote a far-left agenda in the schools. The teacher's unions are consistently pro-abortion, promote a gay/lesbian/transgender agenda in the schools, are adamantly opposed to any discussion of intelligent design theory, and other political positions that have little to do with educating our children and preparing them for productive jobs.

    As a case in point, I once helped propose a pro-adoption affinity credit card to one of the largest credit card companies in America. Although they liked the idea, and agreed it could be viable, they refused. The reason? "Our largest affinity card is the NEA teacher's union card, and anything that even sounds like it would oppose their pro-abortion platform would risk that business. The teacher's union is very adamant that we must not support anything that opposes their political platform."

    I would submit that the Charter School movement, which is at its heart the privatization of education, is the best answer to today's unionized, liberal-agenda, inefficient public school system.

  2. Thanks for your comment, you made several good points. The NEA and teachers unions have been highly partisan, which prevents them from being cooperative with Republican administrations, and sometimes creates a left-wing cram-down in public education (which is hardly offset by the tendency for local school boards to be conservative and push back on curricular issues).

    Regarding structural changes, however, I am not sure that privatization answers these issues - the number of school districts, for example, is a policy decision that will always be made by the legislature or state agencies, regardless of what services the state contracts out. There may be an inefficient number of school districts, and a bloated bureaucracy, but contracting out does not adequately address those issues.
    We can always imagine an efficient, ideal replacement to the current bloated regime - run either by the public sector or by a hypothetical contractor - but in practice, we rarely GET that ideal from either of these approaches. People assume that the private-sector contractor (a firm with a contract to run the schools) will have an incentive to be more efficient, but once they obtain the contract, they are no longer in a competitive situation - they do not have to compete with anyone for students, but rather have their clientele locked in. It's very complex for the state to terminate a contract and find a replacement - much more so than for a private firm make lateral deals - so a contractor who overpromises and does a lousy job has little to fear. In the end, the contractor firm has roughly the same incentive problems that the state employees would have had, or possibly worse.
    That being said, the point of linking to this article was not to suggest that most state employees are just like your favorite high school teacher. Rather, the point is that if we are going to have an intelligent conversation about reducing the size of state government, most of the conversation needs to be about the size of the educational system.