While our economy has been sputtering these past two years, with many businesses struggling just to stay afloat, Washington has been gorging itself by dramatically increasing the number of government jobs – 141,000 since President Barack Obama took office – and offering salaries that continue to outpace those in the private sector.
A report by USA Today found that the number of government workers earning more than $150,000 has increased significantly in recent years. In 2005, 12,399 government workers earned more than $150,000 annually; a number that has since ballooned nearly fourteen-fold to 171,689. Workers who have been with the government between 15 and 24 years have seen their salaries rise by 25% over this same time period, far outpacing the economy’s 9% inflation rate.
Including benefits, the average federal government employee now earns $123,000 annually; double that of their counterparts in the private sector. It should come as no surprise that seven of the 10 richest counties in the nation surround Washington, DC.
Salaries of government jobs are outpacing those in the private sector in nearly all professions. For example, the average salary for a chemist employed by the federal government is $98,060; compared to $72,120 for their private-sector counterpart. The average government-employed janitor will bring home almost $6,000 more than a janitor employed by a private business. Even a clergyman in the employ of Uncle Sam will make almost double that of his private-sector counterpart. While the importance of religion is not in dispute, there is little justification for paying a government pastor $70,460 per year.
Other governments facing fiscal problems are taking the axe to their workforces in an effort to trim their budgets.
The United Kingdom announced last month it would reduce the number of bureaucrats in its government by 500,000 over the next five years. Russia, home to some of the world’s best bureaucrats, seems to comprehend the need to cut the government payroll in tough economic times. President Dmitry Medvedev plans to trim 100,000 jobs over the next three years; a 20 percent cut in public employment.
Even Cuban President Raul Castro appears to understand the benefits of a reduced government workforce; announcing in August that he would reduce the official work force by half a million over the course of six months, and by one million over the next five years.
The Bowles-Simpson commission, which recently released a draft proposal to alleviate the nation’s fiscal problems, suggested that Congress freeze salaries of federal workers over the next three years, while also cutting the number of government jobs by 10%. Additionally, the commission proposed that federal workers contribute half of the cost to their benefit packages; a substantial increase over current contribution levels. Public employee unions predictably are up in arms over that suggestion.
To their credit, Republicans are planning to make a stand on this, as promised in their “Pledge to America.” They propose to kill an across-the-board pay increase and the addition of another 125,000 federal workers in the next fiscal year; they also are at least starting to explore ways to trim back the number of existing government jobs.
No matter how you look at it, the divide between salaries and benefits for federal workers and their private sector counterparts is wide and getting wider. In addition to scaling back the federal workforce, Congress could address this by implementing a market-based approach in determining federal pay.
Unfortunately, unless Democrats and Republicans can agree in the current lame-duck session to extend Bush tax cuts, businesses are not going to be in any position to offer employees pay raises or invest in expanding into new ventures. Of course, failure to do this would suit the federal work force just fine; as its members continue to rest easy in the knowledge they will have cushy jobs for a long time to come.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code