The myth of the overpaid public employee


Lots of press -- as there should be  -- on the new UC Berkeley study that debunks the myth of the overpaid public employee. The Chron had a decent story this morning, The Bay Citizen, which has been reporting pretty heavily on high wages and pensions in the public sector, acknowledged the study today. It's a pretty big deal: Since much of the poltics of 2010 seems to be about bashing public employees and complaining about bloated pensions, some hard reality -- backed up with a sophisticated regression analysis -- was badly needed.

And the study is prettty clear: public employee salaries and pensions are not the cause of California's (or San Francisco's) budget problems:

The Great Recession continues to leave a great deal of economic pain and scarring in its wake. But, the
vilification of government workers is sorely misplaced and has left the real culprits of this devastating
downturn off the hook. Compensation received by public sector employees is neither the cause—nor can
it be the solution—to the state’s financial problems. Only an economic recovery can begin to plug the hole
in the state’s budget. Unfortunately, the current budget balancing efforts in California are anti-simulative
and further act to depress demand in an economy already operating way below capacity. Budget cuts have
helped to keep California’s unemployment rate well into the double-digits for over a year and a half—and
there is no end in sight. Thousands of California public employees have lost their jobs and many more
have forgone pay through forced furloughs and their families have experience considerable pain and disruption.
All the workers who have lost their jobs or took cuts in pay or benefits were made to do so not
because of their work performance, or because their services were no longer needed, nor because they were
overpaid. They were simply causalities among a list of millions of hard working innocent victims of a financial
system run amuck. Public sector workers help our communities to thrive and provide services that
make it worthwhile to live in them—it is wrong to blame them for the fallout from the greatest economic
downturn since the Great Depression. 

The study's out in enough time to make a potential difference in the election -- on both the state and the local level, attacks on public employees are driving major campaigns. Meg Whitman is all about tying Jerry Brown to those evil unions, and Prop.B, the measure to cut health care and pensions for city employees, is a wedge issue. A little logic shows that it's not only misleading but factually wrong to blame the public-sector workers for the recession.

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