NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 4, 2010

The economy is struggling, the unemployment rate is high and many Americans are struggling to pay the bills.  But one class of Americans is doing quite well: government workers.  Their pay levels are soaring, they enjoy unmatched benefits, and they remain largely immune from layoffs, except for some overly publicized cutbacks around the margins, says Steven M. Greenhut, director of the Investigative Journalism Center and News Bureau at the Pacific Research Institute and a Senior Fellow with the Goldwater Institute.

In his new book, "Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation," Greenhut documents many examples of municipal malfeasance.  For example:

  • Government employees of all stripes have manipulated the system to spike their pensions.
  • The old deal seemed fair: public employees would earn lower salaries than Americans working in the private sector, but would receive a somewhat better retirement and more days off.
  • Now, public employees get higher average pay, far higher benefits and many more days off and other fringe benefits.
  • They have also obtained greatly reduced work schedules, thus limiting public services even as pay and benefits shoot ever higher.

The new deal is starting to raise eyebrows, thanks to efforts by groups such as the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, which publishes the $100,000 Club, a list of thousands of California government retirees with six-figure, taxpayer-guaranteed incomes, says Greenhut.

The story doesn't end with the imbalance in pay and benefits. Government workers also enjoy absurd protections.  The Los Angeles Times published a recent series about the city's public school district, which doesn't even try to fire incompetent teachers and is seldom able to get rid of those credibly accused of misconduct or abuse.

The real scandal is a two-tier society where government workers enjoy benefits far in excess of those for whom they supposedly work.  It is past time to start cleaning up the mess by reforming retirement systems and limiting the public unions' power, says Greenhut.

Source: Steven M. Greenhut, "Public employees living larger than ever as economy struggles," Goldwater Institute, December 16, 2009.


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