Commentary

Public Perception and the Public/Private Employment Gap

Some interesting findings from a new Rasmussen poll on public vs. private sector employment:

Compared to the average government worker, most Americans think they work harder, have less job security and make less money.

In fact, 59% of Americans say the average government worker earns more annually than the average taxpayer, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 15% don’t believe that to be true, while another 26% are not sure. Among those who have close friends or relatives who work for the government, the belief is even stronger: 61% say the average government worker earns more than the average taxpayer. Feeding that belief is the finding that 51% of all adults think government workers are paid too much. Only 10% say they are paid too little, while 27% say their pay is about right.

What I found even more interesting was a later section that discusses the boom in federal employment and the use of stimulus spending to prop up public employment in cash-strapped states.

USA Today reported last week that “federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time in pay and hiring during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.” In the first 18 months of the recession, the number of federal workers earning $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19%, not counting bonuses and overtime. That means, the newspaper says, that the average federal worker earns $71,206, compared to $40,331 in the private sector.

Other data shows that government workers are more likely to stay with their current employers for a long time. Fifty-five percent (55%) of government workers expect to have the same employer in five years. Only 27% of those who work for someone else expect such longevity.

Sixty-two percent (62%) of voters say tax cuts are a better way to create jobs and fight unemployment. Only 21% believe that additional stimulus spending is a more effective tool.

President Obama hopes to use money still unspent from the $787-billion economic stimulus plan to fight the nation’s 10% unemployment rate, and one of the ideas on the table is to channel money to states to keep them from laying off public employees. But just 22% of Americans favor providing federal bailout funds to states with serious financial problems.

This federal hiring spree and commensurate push to insource (de-privatize) federal positions currently contracted out are indeed troubling, as I elaborated here, here and here.

Leonard Gilroy is vice president of government reform at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. He also serves as senior managing director of the Pension Integrity Project at Reason Foundation, which assists policymakers and other stakeholders in designing, analyzing and implementing public sector pension reforms.