Income Inequality, Government vs. Private Jobs
The United States has to rethink the nature and cost of government jobs. Government jobs, especially federal jobs are paying far better than the private sector. In 2008 federal workers averaged wages of $8,000 higher than the private sector and in 2011 that gap has widened further.
Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available. (Dennis Cauchon, USA Today)
On top of this, governments offer retirement and health insurance benefits at a much higher rate than private industry. One result is that people are scrambling to get government jobs, particularly federal jobs where the pay is the highest, and they are lobbying for more government job creation because such jobs are considered secure. This takes talented people out of the private sector where they could help grow the economy. The second result is that the economy cannot support all of these jobs, which are funded by taxes on nongovernment workers. This is causing governments to go bankrupt and increasing private citizen anger over a sense of injustice fueling movements like the Tea Party.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie has noted, “A retired teacher paid $62,000 towards her pension and nothing, yes nothing, for full family medical, dental and vision coverage over her entire career. What will we pay her? $1.4 million in pension benefits and another $215,000 in health care benefit premiums over her lifetime.” Christie also says that state worker benefits are on average about 40% higher than what the Fortune 500 worker gets.
Civil Service for College
One way to reduce the cost of government salaries and at the same time solve the problem of college tuition for many people that can’t afford it is to enact government programs of civil service for college. A high school graduate could work in a government job at a lower wage, with no pension benefit, but receive a college tuition credit instead. Israel, Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway do this in varying ways. There are numerous social benefits to such a system:
- The cost to the government will be less because salaries will be lower by about $10,000 per year and health insurance rates on single young people should be about $11,000 per year less than middle-aged workers with a family plan.
- A college tuition credit of $63,000 for 3 year’s service would equal the three years wage savings and the entire cost of pensions for these employees could be eliminated.
- State governments may be able to send students to state colleges at a reduced rate.
- The young person will learn about the government and its role in our lives, making them better citizens and more intelligent voters.
- Young people in positions dealing with the public (e.g. a welfare service counter) are likely to be more optimistic and enthusiastic than middle-aged people who grow tired of the job but stay for their pension.
- Having a period of government service before college, the young person will mature and better understand the nature of work and the value of education before they go to college. They will be less likely waste their years in college.
- The young person will emerge from the program with a college degree and no student loans. Student loans for general education are a burden that can delay marriage and lead to depression, addiction, or even suicide. No society ought to put its young people in such a position.
- The young person will emerge with a debt of gratitude to the government rather than seeing it as an oppressor.
- Such programs already work for military personnel and can be expanded to other government sectors.
- The United States will end up with a better educated workforce.
“But they aren’t professionals”
One common complaint, and one that will be raised by government employee unions, is that high-school graduates aren’t professionals. While it is true that many government jobs do require professionals—civil engineers, accountants and teachers, many other jobs can be filled by high-school graduates—TSA inspectors, clerks, drivers, highway workers, recreation workers, janitors. We put high school graduates in the Army guarding bridges and roads in Afghanistan, so there is no logical reason why they couldn’t serve in similar positions guarding airports at home.
I have have both served in the military and hired high school graduates in the private sector. My experience is that young people are highly trainable and are optimistic when they believe the work they are doing is creating a path for personal success. This counts for a lot. Personally, I would be happy to see many government workers replaced by high school grads because it should both help balance budgets and create a happier and healthier society.
Governments at all levels could adopt Civil Service for College programs.
Any level of government—city, county, state, or federal—could adopt such programs. It may be uncomfortable for those making the changes because those with lifelong government positions will not want to train in new high school grads every 3 years. However, this works just fine in the Army where outgoing soldiers train incoming soldiers to take over their job.
Existing employees need not be fired, retirees could simply be replaced by new people on the civil service to college program. Within a few years the number of government retirees on pensions would decrease and college graduates increase, saving tax dollars money and providing a higher quality workforce.