Saturday, September 11, 2010

Class Warfare, Public vs. Private Edition

Last month, Rush Limbaugh, in one of his government employee-bashing moods, quoted from a USA Today story that recently had been published:

At a time when workers' pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees' average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade." The average compensation 2009, federal civilian, meaning non-uniform military, is $123,049."

But as PolitiFact Georgia notes

The August report does not compare the salaries of people working in specific federal jobs to similar positions in the private sector. The BEA notes that its private-sector data includes employees of all professions. That means everything from minimum-wage jobs to the salaries of chief executive officers. Federal employees typically work in professional occupations that pay more, such as accountants, attorneys and economists, according to Congressional Budget Office research.

The BEA also noted in recent years that the federal government is hiring more highly skilled workers who tend to make more money. Many of the lower-paid positions, the BEA found, have been contracted out to the private sector.

The report also did not consider the greater education and seniority of employees in the public sector. Government workers typically hold their job for a longer period of time as they gain more experience and with it, more seniority, reflecting the greater experience.

PolitiFact generously contends "the articles do not indicate whether some factors, such as the high cost of living in the Washington, D.C. area, where many federal employees work, were considered." But there is no indication that the particularly high cost of living in the Washingon area was considered; and if it was, it would be more than perplexing that USA Today failed so to indicate, given it would have added emphasis to the gap it was reporting.

Consider, also, that Limbaugh's figure of $123,049 applies to federal civilian, meaning non-uniform military." That excludes an awful lot of government employees, who are poorly paid and whose health benefits Limbaugh's GOP wants to tamp down.

Rush claimed also

Even state and local government workers' average is basically 70,000 versus 61 in the private sector. Fifty-three thousand of the 70 is salary, $17,000 is benefits. So people working at all levels of government -- state and local and federal -- are earning much more than the average employee in the private sector, both salary and benefits and growing.

The USA today report which Rush was citing actually read

State government employees had an average salary of $47,231 in 2008, about 5% less than comparable jobs in the private sector. City and county workers earned an average of $43,589, about 2% more than private workers in similar jobs. State and local workers have higher total compensation than private workers when the value of benefits is included.

But an analysis of the BLS data in a study commissioned by the Center for Sate and Local Government Excellence and the National Insitutute on Retirement Security found

even after accounting for the value of retirement, healthcare, and other benefits, state and local employees earn less than private sector counterparts. On average, total compensation is 6.8% lower for state employees and 7.4% lower for local employees than for comparable private sector employees.

An apparent contradiction but....

Rush cited a figure of $53,000 for the salary of state and local government employees. USA Today's reporter Dennis Cauchon used the figure of $47,231 as the salary for individuals in comparable jobs; it then went on to maintain "State and local workers have higher total compensation than private workers when the value of benefits is included." The contrasting figures of Limbaugh and Cauchon suggest that the $47,231 salary was that for comparable (state and local) jobs; $53,000 was that for all state and local jobs, including those not comparable to any in the private sector. The (virtually irrelevant) result, now that jobs without an equivalent in the private sector are being compared, is "State and local workers have higher total compensation than private workers." That's probably true, but total compensation is lower for state and federal workers in comparable jobs.

Blame not Rush for the sleight-of-hand, which apparently was the work of USA Today's Cauthon. We'll give Limbaugh the benefit of the doubt and assume he did not recognize the manipulation of statistics.

But blame Rush for this: his theme is "Obama is purposely destroying the economy (as) government employees continue to make out like bandits. In fact, exactly like bandits." A few minutes later he would claim "I'm talking about the people in charge of the structure who are in favor of declining growth in the private sector -- managing it, happy about it - while they exercise the growth and celebrate the growth of the public sector. It's just dollars and cents, plain and simple."

Put aside the vile nature of accusing a President of the United Staes of "purposely destroying the economy," behavior which would seriously jeopardize the global economy. Or the stupidity, or silliness, or dishonesty of suggesting that any President would want to destroy his political career by destroying the economy. Rush wants to persuade his listeners that Obama is pampering greedy public employees while ruthlessly destroying the private sector. It is, as Ezra Klein of The Washington Post demonstrated following release of the federal government's July jobs report, at odds with the truth:

July figures were affected by the loss of census jobs; still, private sector employment has been (albeit insufficiently) growing over the past several months while public employees have been laid off throughout the nation.

But Limbaugh still will allege that the President is trying to wreck the nation's economy. While Limbaugh applauds, public sector jobs will continue to be privatized, replaced with jobs of inferior pay and benefits. As a result, the advantage in pay of private sector employees over public sector employees will continue to diminish and Limbaugh and other conservatives will say: aha, look how much better public employees are doing! And the class warfare waged by the right will continue to gain steam.

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