Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Facts about Public Workers


By Kelly Anthony

The battle between Governor Walker and public employees in Wisconsin shines a spotlight on people who are normally behind the scenes in our communities – the public workers.

Teachers, firefighters, street cleaners, police, child abuse caseworkers – these public employees are the heartbeat of our communities. Wisconsin breaks open a debate about how these workers are treated, and the impact on citizens’ pocketbooks. Unfortunately, that debate has become more political theater than substance, with pundits advancing ideological points over honest debate. Here in the “Show Me State” we prefer to look at hard facts.

The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently issued a report on the lot of public employees in the state of Missouri. They made no-nonsense comparisons between public employees and their counterparts in the private sector. The findings may surprise you – and they will certainly alarm any Missourian that believes an effective government needs to attract the highest quality employees, and keep them for the long term.

Myth #1: Public employees earn more and have cushier jobs with more costly benefits than those in the private sector.

FACT: The EPI finds that Missouri public employees earn 15.6 percent less in total compensation per hour than comparable full-time employees in Missouri’s private sector -- this is a comprehensive figure that includes pension and health insurance benefits. Also illustrated in the report is the finding that compared to the private sector, public sector employee compensation costs are 24.3 percent LOWER at the state level than their private sector counterparts.

Myth #2: Those who are employed by the public sector are there because they “can’t make it” or are unqualified to get a job in the private sector.

FACT: the EPI report shows that public employees in Missouri have substantially higher education levels than those in the private sector; 53 percent of Missouri public employees hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, compared with 22 percent of private sector employees.

Myth#3: The public sector unions are bankrupting the state.

FACT: Despite that low pay, state workers have not received a cost of living adjustment in three years. State employees have also seen reductions in health benefits and pensions. All are now paying significantly higher premiums and deductibles through the state’s health insurance plan, and new state workers must pay 4 percent of their salary into their pension plan.

In light of all this, the question may be, why does someone in Missouri choose to work in the public sector over the private sector? That is best answered by a public employee (and you should ask them). The firefighter, the police officer or the teacher is likely to tell you their rewards are more about job satisfaction. They are filling a need, helping their community and serving their neighbors.

Just look at the facts. The next time you talk with someone in the public sector, instead of making assumptions, thank them for their service.
Anthony works with the Public Good Project of Missouri Jobs with Justice, a nonpartisan coalition promoting issues of workers’ rights and economic justice.
Copyright (C) 2011 by the Missouri Forum. 3/11