Saturday, November 27, 2010

Statistics don't lie . . .

. . . but statisticians do

There is a continuing effort in the press and in some dark corners of Congress to place a large part of the blame for the country's current fiscal problems on the backs of federal employees.

Ms. Julie Snider of USA Today has provided us with a textbook example of the comparison of apples to aardvarks.

The error of this analysis lies precisely in the job mix of the private and public sectors. Included in the "average" salaries of private workers are garbage collectors, janitors, hamburger-flippers, fruit pickers, gas station attendants, restaurant waiters, convenience store clerks, and cub reporters for great metropolitan newspapers, to name a few.

I do not denigrate any of these jobs. All are honorable and necessary. However, Uncle Sam employs very few workers of this type. The federal job mix tends to be heavily oriented towards skilled trades and professionals. The federal workforce necessarily employs scientists, engineers, lawyers, accountants, physicists, electrical & mechanical technicians, nurses and doctors, for example.

Jobs requiring less training or education are indeed necessary in the federal community, but are generally contracted from the private sector.

While anecdotal evidence seldom proves a point, my appointment, which requires a masters degree, a professional license, and more than a decade of relevant experience, pays significantly less than a similar position in the private sector. I have the paychecks from both as proof. Further, my benefits are nowhere close to 50% of my salary, nor are those of the numerous employees in the departments I have managed.

There is no denying that federal employes have a good benefits package. However, the package is not unlike packages offered by major employers across the U.S., and it is necessary for the government to offer it in order to attract quality employees.

I view this backlash as just another version of jealousy fomented by hard times. Those who have less than they would like tend to attack those who have more - a position that the current administration embraces.

The premise of Ms. Snider's analysis is correct.

Her target is not.

The federal employees responsible for said problems - and there are only 596 of them - are not those in the chart above, but those with the title of "Senator" or "Congressman/woman" before their names.