10:46 AM Eastern - Monday, May 3, 2010

Debunking the Myth of the Wealthy State Worker #default

The Grover Norquists of the world have waged a coordinated, decades-long war on public sector employees. Whether you're a teacher, fire fighter, social worker or engineer - nobody has escaped the right's smear campaign.

Attacking the imagined wealth of public employees is a constant refrain in the Republican playbook:

  • Sen. Scott Brown denounced the "lavish pay and benefit packages [that] have unfortunately become a way of life for public employees."
  • The Wall Street Journal editorialized that public employees - and their unions - "may be the single biggest problem" for the nation's economy.
  • And CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed that the "The single biggest threat to the fiscal health and California's future, obviously, is our public pension system."
  • Reason.com continues, writing that public sector workers have "turned themselves into a coddled class that lives better than its private sector counterpart."

But this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, while we've demanded more from public services in the past decade, we've paid our public servants far less. The gap between public and private sector wages has widened, making public sector jobs less competitive than they were 20 years ago. A new report by the National Institute for Retirement Security (NIRS) and the Council on State and Local Government Excellence (CSGE) finds that we pay our state and local public sector employees 11-12% less than their private sector counterparts.

The right wing has seized on the economic downturn as an excuse to rail against public employee compensation, often in favor of private contractors and overhyped privatization schemes. Recently, the headlines have only gotten worse. The Christian Science Monitor printed a commentary, "Want a balanced budget? Cut state workers' pay." Michelle Malkin has invited readers to "compare your salary to a California public employee's."

But pegging the massive economic crash on an underpaid civil servant is not only misguided--it's highly suspect. Writes Amy Traub of the Drum Major Institute,

"Those looking for a 'coddled class' should look to the Wall Street bonus pool, not the Parks Department."
It's just too bad that the right isn't more interested in Lloyd Blankfein's lavish pay.

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