The public sector sees a totally different America than the rest of us do.
That’s true in the broadest sense: Two-thirds of the political class believe the country is moving in the right direction, while 84 percent of other Americans think we’re headed the wrong way, according to a Rasmussen Reports opinion poll earlier this month.
But the divide between government and the governed goes deeper than these momentary feelings. It shows up in our paychecks as well.
Last week USA Today reported that the average federal civilian employee earns twice as much in salary and benefits as the average private-sector worker. These federal workers are paid 61 percent more than the rest of us and receive almost four times as much in retirement and other benefits.
President Barack Obama has proposed an across-the-board pay raise of 1.4 percent next year for these 2 million workers, at a cost of $2.2 billion. The USA Today story noted that this would be the smallest federal pay hike in a decade.
To those whose pay has been frozen for a while now, a raise of “only” 1.4 percent doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice.
But hey, don’t blame the feds for feeling like they’re getting shortchanged this year: Even adjusted for inflation, their pay has climbed almost 37 percent since 2000, or four times faster than wages for the rest of us.
Despite Obama’s new, ahem, restraint on salaries, it doesn’t look as if this gap will get narrower anytime soon.
On Thursday, I searched the federal government’s employment website, USAJobs.gov, for openings in metro Atlanta.
A search for jobs in my ZIP code turned up 169 listings from the North Carolina border to the Florida line, even though the search was supposed to be within a 20-mile radius (that’s close enough for government work, I guess).
A dozen jobs listed no salary figure. Of the other 157, a staggering 110 were for more than the average wage in their county, according to the latest federal data. Add the greater value of public benefits, and 144 of the 157 were above average.
And these are just minimums — each of the 157 listings had a pay scale based on factors like experience, and I’ve cited the bottom of these ranges. But for 92 of the jobs, the scale topped out above $100,000.
Some openings were for jobs like epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, which you’d expect to pay better than the average job in DeKalb County. But there were also jobs like the one paying up to $85,000 a year for a maintenance mechanic supervisor in Calhoun, where the average annual wage is less than $35,000.
No wonder the political/bureaucratic class thinks we have it so good.
And no wonder the political/bureaucratic class thinks the answer to problems ranging from health care to Wall Street is to hire more bureaucrats and give more power to politicians. From their vantage point, the world works pretty well.
But when you’re one of the millions of Americans who earns half as much as a federal bureaucrat simply because your employer has to answer to market conditions and his doesn’t, things aren’t so rosy.
Ditto if you’re one of the millions more who pays for his salary regardless of whether he provides you with a service — much less whether you think that service is valuable.
The political class likes to talk about whether we can countenance a new age of austerity. What its members don’t realize is that, for many of the rest of us, it’s already here.